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Eileen: a stylish but conflicted tapestry

'The film overall promises much, and tries to balance being a love story, a crime thriller and a tale of abuse and alcoholism, tragically it ends up not being quite sure what it is.'

By Anna Dodd, Second Year, English Literature

William Olyroyd’s stylish but eerie take on Eileen invites the viewer into a gritty and at times grotesque world, plagued by isolation and unease. Known for her macabre writing,  Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 thriller translates smoothly onto screen, with the drab aesthetic of a 60's era Massachusetts small town quietly captured through yellow colour grading and impressive visual detail. 

Beginning on a vintage style title card, reminiscent of a Hitchcock opening, we meet Eileen (Thomas McKenzie), a mousy recluse, who divides her time between a dead-end prison job and caring for her alcoholic father (Shea Whigham), a retired policeman. This monotonous routine is broken by the arrival of glamorous Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), an elegant psychologist who takes up a job at the prison.

Presented as a Marilyn Monroe figure with her transatlantic accent and sleek blonde bob, Eileen is immediately charmed by her, and their at times homo-erotic friendship subtly builds and together they become caught up in a grisly chain of events that would bring chills to even the most stoic of true crime junkies. 

Courtesy of IMDb

The entirety of the events that occur throughout the film are underlaid by the ever present, biting New England winter. The wide shots of thick snow and chilling air heighten Eileen’s isolation as well as reflecting the ferociousness of the small town she inhabits, the cold appears to be just as unapologetic and abrasive as the people around Eileen, this is stunningly captured by Ari Wegner’s cinematography.

The film ultimately shines brightest though, in its performances. Thomas McKenzie is convincing and at times delightfully creepy as Eileen with her shy disposition and intense gaze. The film is dispersed with Eileen’s violent and intimate fantasies that are later made clear to merely be imaginary. This choice by Olyroyd heightens the tension of the film as it feels as though we are experiencing it through Eileen’s unreliable point of view and adds an edge that is effective. 

Anne Hathaway stuns as Rebecca, donned in stilettos and frequently seen with a long cigarette hanging out her mouth, she is a sensual, sultry, and smooth femme fatale. The advancement of the pair’s parasitic relationship is thrilling to watch but leads to a very startling tone shift in the final act that is a sharp contrast to the rest of the film, a divergence so stark it is confusing.

The audience sits through an hour of build-up, which ultimately leads to a flat ending that does not quite pay off. It seems the film does not leave enough room or time to explore the themes it raises so boldly, but this is admittedly somewhat alleviated by Marin Ireland, who delivers a monologue so powerful and impressive that it saves the film from the fate of completely losing its way. 

Courtesy of IMDb

The film overall promises much, and tries to balance being a love story, a crime thriller and a tale of abuse and alcoholism, tragically it ends up not being quite sure what it is. Aesthetically it looks outstanding, we feel like we are inside Eileen’s head and within the icy world of small-town New England. With a carefully selected cast who lean into their roles with ease and flair it has potential for greatness, but the viewing experience ultimately ends in a lukewarm disappointment, with a lacklustre ending just as lacklustre as Eileen’s sense of style.

Featured Image: IMDb