SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The dramatic film noir thriller Eileen, based on the award-winning book of the same title by accomplished author Ottessa Moshfegh, who also adapted it to film with Luke Goebel, is a story that takes you out of your current state of mind and into another as a film-going experience should. Directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth), Eileen adds to his growing list of film accomplishments—an auteur in the making as his style, sense of place, and purpose are alluring and encapsulating but always with a dash of bleakness that needs to be rectified.

The film’s direction is noticed from the onset as we are catapulting back into the early 60s in a small coastal New England town during a freezing mid-winter spell, where we meet Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), a mousey young adult whose sexuality is bursting almost uncontrollably but only with herself. Her clunker car that smokes from within her windshield, like an eerie fog rolling in, somehow gets her to the Moorehead prison for boys where she works, to the general store for booze and cigarettes, and home to her ornery, mouthy drunk of a father (Shea Whigham) who used to be a police officer. But, unfortunately, an austere and cruel environment never lets up, from cantankerous female prison administrators to Eileen’s sad and dark existence in her father’s home, where he considers her a waste of space since her mother died.

“…a mousey young adult whose sexuality is bursting almost uncontrollably but only with herself.”

Seemingly dedicated to her bleak and haunting existence, Eileen puts up with her father and goes to work. She is accountable. However, she notices what’s around her, especially when Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) arrives. A stylish and outspoken bombshell, Eileen is awakened by Rebecca in every way. Befriended by Rebecca with her sexual enticements, seemingly rogue rules, and unexplainable existence at the prison, in a bar, and eventually, on Christmas Eve, Eileen ends up in a threatening situation with Rebecca that is unexpected and bizarre. In an interesting plot twist, Rebecca creates an inexplicable and irreversible situation with a prisoner’s mother (Marin Ireland), with dark and dirty secrets. However, the scenario of what ends up being a hideous tragedy upon Eileen’s doing ultimately gives her the freedom to change her life.

What makes Eileen stunning and edgy is the attractive and well-directed acting of everyone in the film. From Eileen’s father’s manner and coarseness to the direct and haughtiness of Rebecca, it’s all acceptable because of the time and place—it all aligns for a great story on every level, along with excellent acting. As we watch Eileen evolve, adorning her mother’s clothes, smoking cigarettes, improving her sense of self, and pushing away her father’s abuse, you want her to thrive. Each character in Eileen is set up for this purpose, as is every location, prop, and setting, including the weather, and with a soundtrack that adds another layer to it all. So when Rebecca lights the flame, Eileen bursts like a sunspot.

Offering beauty and strength in an oppressed and marginalized world, Eileen breaks boundaries on perceived power, especially in a stylized and dramatic manner where silence and austerity reveal an underbelly that can’t be buried and is only explainable and experienced in the art realm of cinema.

Eileen screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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