Sundance movie review: 'Eileen' meanders, then spirals

Anne Hathaway (L) and Thomasin McKenzie star in "Eileen." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
1 of 5 | Anne Hathaway (L) and Thomasin McKenzie star in "Eileen." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Eileen, which premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, never finds a rhythm for its intimate drama. By the time it takes a sharp turn, the film has failed to establish a baseline.

Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) works at a prison. She has fantasies both sexual and violent.


Eileen lives with her father (Shea Whigham), a former police chief and widower who drinks all day and judges Eileen for going out and coming back disheveled. Dr. Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway) comes to work at the prison before Christmas and offers Eileen a new connection.

An uneventful character study can make a perfectly fine drama, but Eileen doesn't make its title character's existence compelling. Eileen likes Rebecca, so they go out once together and dance, then Rebecca goes on vacation for Christmas.

It's a brief respite in Eileen's dreary life. But, if the dreary life was the point, there's not much to it either.

Chief Dunlop injures himself while Eileen is at work, and still brandishes his gun around which is troubling. However, this proves to be setting up a twist that's not satisfying enough to warrant the film's disjoined structure.


Eileen's violent fantasies get old once you know they're not real. The film always cuts back to the real scene where Eileen has not actually committed the violence.

So, the last 30 minutes of Eileen become a different movie. Only it's not like From Dusk Till Dawn where the switch is the point.

It feels really unmotivated in Eileen. The film is based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh so readers will have to decide if it worked better on the page.

So, getting to know Eileen and Rebecca doesn't lay enough groundwork to make their third act crisis a compelling situation. Perhaps when Eileen comes to streaming, the end will make a decent short film if one doesn't have to watch the whole movie.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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