Eileen – Sundance 2023

A still from Eileen by William Oldroyd, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway, Eileen is a Hitchcock-esque provocative thriller that takes its audience on twists and turns.

Thomasin McKenzie’s casting in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace will go down as one of the best discoveries in this century. The actress has never disappointed and her star is only continuing to rise. McKenzie and Anne Hathaway both make their return to Sundance in the new film from Lady Macbeth filmmaker William Oldroyd. McKenzie delivers an amazing performance as a Massachusetts prison secretary. The same goes for Hathaway as a prison counselor. They bring complex characters to the screen and take us along for the ride. I love what the two bring in their awards-worthy performances. Things gets sinister at times but it’s as if we’re watching a Hitchcock movie, only Hitchcock isn’t involved!

As the winter holidays approach in Boston 1964, a new counselor, Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway) starts working there. She and Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) quickly befriend one another. While it’s never said on screen, Rebecca is presumably attracted to women. At least, this is how her interactions with Eileen come across on the screen. In any event, people reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel are coming into the film with advantage? As for me, I went into it knowing very little other than the filmmaker and stars. It certainly makes for quite the interesting approach but it took me on several twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting. I won’t give any of the particulars away but audiences are in for quite a treat.

Eileen splits her time between working at the prison and having to take care of her drunk father (Sea Whigham). Rebecca just happens to come into her life at the right time. Unlike other co-workers, Rebecca isn’t making fun of her. Of course, it’s only when you start to think their friendship might be going elsewhere that the film takes us in a sinister direction. That’s all I’m going to say lest I get into particular spoilers. Anyone reading the book will already be at an advantage. What I can most definitely say is that cinematographer Ari Wegner lenses the film with spectacular beauty. Wegner has a way with the camera and this film is no exception. She makes an otherwise dreary house look beautiful in terms of lighting. Could she get another Oscar nomination?

Eileen feels like a psychological thriller that will play well with art house audiences more so than commercial audiences. It’s possible that a streamer could acquire it out of Sundance but it just feels like a film one would see in a theater. Lines are blurring so much about what is a feature film and what’s a TV movie. This is very much a feature film if you ask me. It just needs to get the right distributor to push it along the path.

Maybe it’s because Eileen is a psychological thriller but it is Hitchcock-esque in its delivery. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud! Similarly, Bernard Hermann is no longer alive but the score is a great tribute to his work. The score elevates the suspense as we get to know both Eileen and Rebecca, let alone Rebecca’s intentions. On the script front, Ottessa Moshfegh and Luke Goebel find room for comedy in the film. There’s a moment where Eileen asks to use the bathroom and you’d have thought she was doing acting exercises as a way to control her nerves!

DIRECTOR: William Oldroyd
SCREENWRITERS: Ottessa Moshfegh and Luke Goebel
CAST: Thomasin McKenzie, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague, and Anne Hathaway

Eileen holds its world premiere during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.