December 8, 2023 / Elevation Pictures
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Sam Nivola, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Tonye Patano, Owen Teague, Peter McRobbie
Directed By: William Oldroyd
During a bitter 1964 Massachusetts winter, young secretary Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) becomes enchanted by Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), the glamorous new counselor at the prison where she works.
Just when the possibility of a salvational friendship (or maybe more) takes hold and forms a singular glimmer in Eileen's darkness, her newfound confidant entangles her in a shocking crime that alters everything.
Written By Darren
Rating 2 out of 5
Eileen is held together by the performances of Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie, who are captivating throughout, but a slow moving start and abrupt change in direction unfortunately fails to create the stirring film Eileen strives to be.
Psychological thrillers often lend themselves naturally to a rich storytelling and great performances from its lead cast. Being based on a novel usually helps as there is a strong backbone beyond the script to inform the characters and their arcs over the film, which is what Eileen attempts to do. While there is no denying that both Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie deliver excellent performances throughout the film and elevate the screenplay as best as they can, it is evident that there is an element of the novel that was lost while translating it to the screen which sadly hampers the film from being the riveting character based thriller it wants to be.
Eileen Dunlop has been working in the local prison for years, living a rather uneventful life. That is, until Rebecca Saint John takes over as the new prison counselor. Immediately, Eileen is drawn to Rebecca as Rebecca helps Eileen discover new aspects of her personality. But what Eileen is unaware of is that Rebecca may be harbouring another reason for taking a liking to her, one with consequences Eileen would never imagine.
Not enough can be said about how brilliant Hathaway is an actress, so it comes as no surprise that she is great as Rebecca. From the second she arrives on screen, Hathaway lights up the film with a temptress charm that instantly draws in McKenzie’s Eileen into her orbit. With her New York accent, Hathaway creates an intoxicating character that has an allure to her combined with a sense of danger that grants her power over Eileen. McKenzie continues to prove herself an excellent actress as she quietly works through Eileen’s insecurities and sexual awakening as she becomes infatuated with Hathaway’s character. It’s a role that requires a lot to be unsaid, but McKenzie makes the most of the screenplay and elevates it with her strong lead performance. As a pairing, Hathaway and McKenzie are dynamite together, and the film is at its best when they are sharing the screen. You could make an entire movie solely focusing on the game of temptation unfold between them, without ever getting to the twist of the third act, as Hathaway and McKenzie are that exciting to watch together.
Though, not even Hathaway and McKenzie can course correct the film to make it the thrilling experience it wants to be. With a runtime of only ninety seven minutes, brevity and cutting to the point is necessary in telling a successful story. While there are some great moments between Eileen and Rebecca to build the sexual tension between them as Eileen leaves girlhood behind and tries to find a life outside of her regular routine and father, there is not enough else happening to propel the rest of the story. You pick up pretty early on that Rebecca has singled out Eileen for a specific reason and is stringing her along for her own advantage, but this is not addressed till the third act where the film takes a drastic and quick turn of events. It rapidly becomes a criminal thriller, squandering away with the tonal setup of the first two acts of the film in the final thirty minutes of the film. It’s an exciting end for viewers to watch, but the messy execution of the conclusion makes the rest of the film feel redundant and without purpose as it does not stick the landing for the ending. Maybe if the film had the narration of the older Eileen retelling the events of the story as the novel did, these problems would be less impactful on the entire film as there would be some insight into the impact it all had on her as a character, but as it stands the screenplay fails to translate the story meaningfully to the big screen.
While the screenplay, the cinematography helps to bring to life the psychological thriller aspect of the film. The daytime sequences are soaked in drab, colourless visuals that create a sense of despair aside from the colourful costumes worn by Rebecca and her beach blonde hair that pop off the screen. During the night time sequences, Ari Wegner utilizes shadows to create a sense of mystery and danger on the screen. The glow of the red lights outside the bar where Eileen and Rebecca go to after work captures the passionate affection Eileen is developing for Rebecca, while the shadows surrounding the red lighting teases the dangerous circumstances Eileen is about to find herself in. It comes as no surprise that the film looks this good as Wegner has just come off of an Academy Award nomination for The Power of the Dog, and her work here continues to prove why she is one incredibly talented cinematographer.
While there is always a desire to bring popular novels to the big screen, some stories should remain in the written format, and unfortunately Eileen does not justify its existence as a big screen outing. While Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie are exquisite and deliver two exceptional performances along with some striking cinematography that captures the darkness inherent in the story, the tonal inconsistencies and uneventful first two acts of the film prevent Eileen from being the enticing thriller it strives to be.