"Eileen" [Philadelphia Film Festival 2023]: A beautifully trashy "Carol"-ish thriller

Eileen (2023)

"Eileen" is beautifully dressed period trash — and that’s a feature, not a bug. It’s like the twisted lady-friend “roommate” to "Carol": a psychosexual thriller on a slow-burner. With a film that has the studied panache of Alfred Hitchcock and Todd Haynes, as well as the soul of either filmmaker’s work, one still wishes it were even a little more deceptive, trashier even. It’s surprising, then, that this adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel has been co-adapted by Moshfegh herself and screenwriter Luke Goebel ("Causeway"). 

The titular Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), a mousy 24-year-old secretary at a prison for young men in 1964, Massachusetts. She lives with her father (an effectively loathsome Shea Whigham), an ex-police sergeant who’s drinking himself to death. Eileen’s life is very unfulfilling, until the prison brings on a glamorous, Harvard-educated psychologist, Dr. Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway). Eileen is instantly hooked, and the more the two get to know one another, it leads to Rebecca inviting Eileen out for a drink at the only local bar. Eileen becomes so intoxicated by the sexy shrink that she accepts an invitation at Rebecca’s house for Christmas Eve, and, well, the film goes places you won’t expect.

At its best, “Eileen” is always a fascinating character study, throbbing with desire and longing. What blooms into a tantalizing (and unexpectedly funny) drama about a potentially sapphic relationship later becomes something else. That “something else” doesn’t come out of left field, but it’s still surprising, and British theater director William Oldroyd ("Lady Macbeth") really lets his actors do the heavy lifting. Read the full review at GuyAtTheMovies.com

Grade: B

"Eileen" (98 min.) screened at the Philadelphia Film Festival. NEON is releasing the film on December 1, 2023.