Film: Eileen

‘Tis the season for psychological thrillers, it seems: next on the docket is Eileen (2023), an absorbing period mystery set in mid-century Massachusetts. Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman in her mid-twenties who lands in a bleak situation, working a dead-end job at a boys’ prison while living with her alcoholic ex-cop father Jim (Shea Whigham). Eileen’s life is going nowhere, a fact not helped at all by Jim’s drunken, dismissive attitude toward her. A new arrival shakes things up, though: Dr. Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway), a glamorous, educated psychologist who brings an unusually stylish and energetic vibe to an unlikely setting. Perhaps because she, too, is a fish out of water, she quickly befriends Eileen, and—perhaps subconsciously—seduces her into a friendship. Her effortless, flirtatious elan lures Eileen out of her shell, but soon leads to dangerous escalations when her prison work spills out into the real world.

In its modest, low-key way, Eileen is an effective chiller that quickly establishes a dreary baseline world before shaking it up compellingly with the stranger coming to town. Effortlessly, Hathaway transforms the film, her flawless transatlantic accent and movie-star allure quickly captivating Eileen and the viewer alike. Rebecca’s instant mystique awes Eileen, but also injects a sedate scenario with intriguing depths. As Eileen falls under the newscomers’ spell, the viewer wonders about Rebecca’s secrets, and how they will emerge. McKenzie is excellent as the meek young lady finding her legs in life, while the supporting cast is bolstered by two exceptional—and chronically underrated—actors in Whigham and Marin Ireland. The film doesn’t build to a particularly explosive or memorable climax, really, but its does quietly tie a bow on its key threads while serving as a terrific vehicle for its great cast.

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