Sundance: William Oldroyd’s darkly romantic Ottessa Moshfegh adaptation already feels near iconic.
Within the first scene of “Eileen,” the protagonist stakes out in her automotive on a dreary winter lakefront lovers’ lane within the Boston outskirts. As one other couple makes out in a backseat of the subsequent automotive, Eileen watches, glowering lustily, and grabs a handful of muddy snow, shoves it down her pants, and masturbates.
The remainder of “Woman Macbeth” director William Oldroyd’s second function by no means fairly matches the giddy perversity of that picture, however regardless of, as a result of this trendy Sixties-set noir tailored from Ottessa Moshfegh’s imply and pungent novel of the identical identify is a darkish deal with all through. Thomasin McKenzie, taking part in the title character, and Anne Hathaway, taking part in the alluring blonde-headed lady that seemingly drops from the sky and into her life, give career-best performances in an oddly touching queer almost-romance that looks like a cross between “Carol” and Hitchcock (Moshfegh herself has named his movie “Rebecca,” which shares a reputation with Hathaway’s character right here, as a touchstone). Nevertheless it’s additionally solely its personal bizarre, lovely factor, even when it doesn’t fairly rub audiences as deeply within the muck of Eileen’s depressing existence because the novel did.
Eileen’s days and methods kind a sequence of sad moments. She lives in a poky Victorian together with her alcoholic, jobless, out-of-it father (Shea Whigham) whose waking hours are spent boozing joylessly in a recliner. Eileen, who’s 24, works at a jail, largely at a take away from her coworkers, who need nothing to do together with her. She overdoes it on chocolate laxatives, hardly ever bathes, and has office sexual fantasies a few lithe jail guard she’s barely ever spoken to (Owen Teague). Director/co-writer Oldroyd has toned down the deliberate repulsiveness of “My Yr of Relaxation and Leisure” creator Moshfegh’s second novel, however you continue to get the sense right here of a younger lady fascinated by the disgustingness of life and as a method of expiation for underachieving — and for staving off boredom. However she additionally will get off on degrading herself, which is a part of the movie’s sick pleasure.
Enter Rebecca Saint John (Hathaway), the brand new psychologist on the jail, who has an virtually Jackie Kennedy-esque aura about her, a platinum-blonde flipped bob, and cigarette-wielding charisma that simply oozes out of her. Eileen is sort of instantly intoxicated, and the sensation is mutual, as a result of Rebecca, in contrast to her father, doesn’t flinch at Eileen’s wicked underside. When she catches Eileen poring over bloody crime scene images within the jail’s archives, Rebecca entreats Eileen for an invite to drinks.
Hathaway has by no means been higher in a job that feels as tailored for her as Olga Mill’s elegant interval costumes. She will get to ship delicious, tart-tongued traces like “I shouldn’t smoke, however I do.” Eileen and Rebecca have a heady, woody chemistry harking back to Todd Haynes’ aforementioned lesbian romance, and sure, these comparisons are going to stay as a result of, like Rooney Mara’s Therese Belivet, Eileen is a younger lady pulled out of her self-made shell by an older, extra assured one. McKenzie, although slightly shaky with the Boston accent, successfully pulls off Eileen’s mousiness and aversion for the world whereas additionally layering that with a heightening glee beneath her. Rebecca has introduced her again to life.
Oldroyd and Moshfegh, who co-wrote the screenplay, introduce a subplot that takes on a extra sinister dimension because the film rolls alongside: one younger prisoner by the identify of Lee Polk (Sam Nivola) has brutally killed his father, and Rebecca is trying to get to the foundation of the trigger amid his histrionic mom (Marin Eire, who finally runs off with the film) flittering out and in of the jail. Lee’s story parallels Eileen’s personal to an extent: she’s finally handed a Chekhov’s gun by a police officer who requisitions the firearm from her father, as he’s too unkempt and unfit to ably maintain possession of it. She fantasizes about blowing his brains out, and her personal, in hilariously grisly fantasy sequences that pump jolty soar scares right into a film that primarily ambles alongside at a leisurely tempo — till the second half.
It’s unattainable to speak concerning the gasp-eliciting twist “Eileen” takes — when Rebecca invitations Eileen over to her home for Christmas — with out spoiling the entire thing. However let’s simply say that one other prison subplot involving the Polks is launched, and it brings Eileen and Rebecca extra intimately collectively, turning “Eileen” right into a form of cracked queer Christmas noir. Marin Eire — Marin freaking Eire — additionally delivers an unforgettable monologue that flips the film the other way up on its sick, sick head. And that’s all we’ll say on that.
Oldroyd and cinematographer Ari Wegner evoke an immersively detailed world beneath a fuzzed-out celluloid grit. Oldroyd’s affinity for rear projection in a few driving scenes and the Val Lewton-style typeface within the opening credit crawl summon a nostalgia for the noirish romances about unloved however not dangerous individuals of yore — however the stylistic decisions by no means really feel hokey. Richard Reed Parry’s rating, mixing jazz with extra shivery ominous orchestral preparations, amply abets the film’s poisonous pull.
Oldroyd is clearly a grasp assembler of types, however he by no means lets his imaginative and prescient outshine the great central performances on the film’s core. A number of Hathaway moments particularly appear virtually constructed for social media excerpting, together with a second the place she explains to Eileen why she loves dwelling alone as a result of she will do no matter she desires and even scream every time she desires, after which Hathaway lets out of a giddy hysterical scream on the high of her lungs.
McKenzie, in a single scene involving a basement and a gun, appears to be like completely beautiful, and watching Eileen slowly disarm below Rebecca’s guiles is an virtually impossibly romantic expertise. Moshfegh and Oldroyd have a factor for unlikable characters — see his “Woman Macbeth,” starring Florence Pugh as a heartless and miserably married lady who burns down her life, or her “Yr of Relaxation and Leisure,” a few lady decided to sleep her life away. However with “Eileen,” they’ve discovered characters who could sound unlikable on paper however are literally irresistibly lovable.
“Eileen” premiered on the 2023 Sundance Movie Pageant. It’s at present in search of U.S. distribution.