Eileen film review and star rating: ★★★★
Eileen is an odd proposition. It’s kind of like two films squashed together, meaning it needs more time to percolate than something with a more conventional structure. But that’s what makes it interesting: you keep watching because you’re positive that this incredibly slow-burning crescendo is eventually going to pay off. It does, but in an over-arching, stylistic way rather than in terms of plot.
The thriller offers a considered examination of female trauma in a way that deftly, subtly suggests that anyone is capable of doing something terrible if they’re pushed far enough. Brooding, atmospheric shots of winter in New Jersey set the scene: if it looks and feels cold and dystopian, that’s because it was, with filming taking place amid the Omnicron variant when tough isolation and quarantine protocols were in place.
In Eileen, trauma presents in ways that are obsessive, angry and violent. Inspired by the novel of the same name by Ottessa Moshfegh, it chronicles the life of a lonely, isolated woman. She’s played by New Zeleand actor Thomasin McKenzie, a burgeoning name from Jojo Rabbit and The Power of the Dog, who plays her with generous servings of rawness and complexity. (City A.M. spoke to Thomasin about what she learned from working with Anne Hathaway on the thriller.)
She’s a secretary at a prison in Massachusetts who works with the older, more glamorous psychiatrist Rebecca, who fizzes with sexual energy in a fantastic turn by Anne Hathaway. Eileen demonstrates McKenzie’s star power and huge potential as a lead actor. She shares some incredible chemistry with Hathaway, in a story that burns with repressed desire.
Queer desire is threaded through, meaning that alongside the tougher stuff there are some really rather poetic scenes. In one light-hearted bit, Rebecca leads Eileen through some grinding moves on the dancefloor after one too many martinis.
Eillen is a taut psychological thriller where, as is often the case, men are largely to blame for the oppression of women. Eileen herself is a fully realised example of trauma that is rare on screen: from the confusion of feelings and compounding of them through to the wayward ways we are all capable of projecting them.
Set in the socially challenging world of the 1960s, Ari Wegner’s cinematography flickers with a fun, offbeat vintage feel, adding to an underlying creepiness.
Eileen is in cinemas from tomorrow, 1 December
Read more: Eileen star Thomasin McKenzie: What Anne Hathaway taught me and why I love London
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