Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh collaborated to create a unique psychological thriller, based on Moshfegh’s Booker Prize-nominated book of the same title. Directed by William Oldroyd, the film is performed and portrayed with an oddly serious tone, reminiscent of a somber reimagining of a forgotten John Waters cult classic. The strange scene where Anne Hathaway’s character struggles with what appears to be a fake cat, tossing it out the front door with a yowling sound in the background, may just be the highlight of the film.
The story takes place in a small town in Massachusetts during the 1960s. Thomasin McKenzie portrays Eileen, a shy and stifled young woman who works as a filing assistant at a juvenile prison. At home, she acts as the primary caregiver for her aggressively alcoholic father, Jim (played by Shea Whigham), a former policeman who often gets drunk, threatens his neighbors with his gun, and humiliates Eileen. Eileen herself has frequent daydreams of sex, revenge, and self-harm, which may seem strange at first but ultimately take away from the impact of a twist in the real world.
Eileen finds herself inexplicably fascinated by the jail’s new consultant psychologist, Dr. Rebecca Saint John (Hathaway). Dr. Saint John is a fashionable and cultured woman with progressive views and dyed blonde hair. She invites Eileen, who is typically shy, out for drinks and seems entertained by the idea of helping her come out of her shell. The film appears to be following the same storyline as Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol, with Hathaway in the lead role and McKenzie in a more submissive role. However, an unexpected and dramatic turn of events takes place.
This movie definitely has some standout scenes. One that comes to mind is when the stern prison warden, Mrs. Murray (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan), makes the rebellious teenage inmates sit through a religious Christmas pageant called “Christmas in Prison.” While it’s meant to be humorous, I’m not entirely sure if the rest of the film’s impact is intentional. Both Hathaway and McKenzie deliver passionate and engaging performances, but the overall movie falls short and ends on a disappointing note.