Eileen couldn’t be more of a cross between Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson’s mid-century noir if Carol had fathered a child with The Killer Inside Me. Traveling through wintry Boston in the 1960s, this teasing and Against the Foot, adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 detective novel, gets to the heart of a crime, then leaves the ramifications hanging.
As in Carol, we are drawn to the allure of a lesbian love story, between a brunette prison lackey named Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie, with her strangely timeless face) and a grandiose-looking older blonde woman – a Harvard-trained doctor. , Rebecca, who is a posh fish out of water in this filthy suburban penitentiary.
Played in rough skirt suits by Anne Hathaway, under a curvy blonde wig, this veneer of newcomer class intoxicates young Eileen, who lives miserably at home under the eye of her alcoholic father (Shea Whigham), a embittered ex-cop who taunts that she’s getting nowhere in her life.
This is William Oldroyd’s second directorial effort after the terrific Lady Macbeth (2016), which starred a steamy Florence Pugh in her first leading role and crackled with almost savage sexual tension. That element is only half-present here, despite Eileen’s fantasies in every direction – she’s just as likely to daydream about the lascivious attention of one of the prison guards (an underused Owen Teague ) or imagine blowing off his father’s head with his service revolver.
The film is nothing but feints for an hour – elegant feints, but far from restarting the dramatic engine, they have a habit of stalling it. Many may also struggle to get past Hathaway’s selfish front and find a real person: while it’s impossible not to remember Cate Blanchett’s Carol Aird, my mind wandered once or twice to the Kate McKinnon’s invaluable Saturday Night Live parody. character.