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Eileen – Sundance 2023 (Film Review)

2 min read

Still Courtesy - Film4

Moving away from his established 19th-Century iconography, 's long awaited follow-up to his festival discovery transitions to a new period, revolving around a similar theme of oppression. The horrors of the Second World War have gently faded into the background of the cultural zeitgeist. The parking lot at Moorehead prison is covered with glistening snow. It's a new season for the film's titular protagonist Eileen; a chance for self discovery in the 20th century. The snow, once used as a tool for sexual gratification, slowly melts with the blonde flame of Rebecca's glorious glamor — a psychotherapist (as portrayed by the enigmatic ) with a mysterious background & cryptic motive. Adapted from the New England novel of the same name, Oldroyd's adaptation is classical, angsty, restrained, and sensual. Adjectives aside, there's also a real pulse to his refreshing direction; bordering on the keenly phantasmagorical whilst focusing heavily on the design of his literal patriarchal prisons. 

Within Eileen‘s scene geography, Oldroyd specifically focuses on rectangular formations. When depicting scenes with big crowds of men, the film's compositions are cleverly choreographed to create a literal distance between the wardens, the prisoners, and the surrounding occupational staff with Eileen's placement in the frame. Walls, gates, bars, and windows also create a literal divide. Accompanied by the film's blocking, cinematographer Ari Wagner highlights the melancholic greys of the holiday season. The film's dreary colour-grade perfectly compliments the middle-class melancholy of the bay-slater populace. Eileen's pastiche is purposefully muted; visually oppressive in its application of sharp colour theory.

Manic paranoia takes hold of Thomasin Mackenzie's unreliable central performance, as her character jitters and breaks free from her iron-handed posture with each passing minute. Eileen's fantasies flood with the influence of cigarette sales, rampant alcoholism, and the baby-boom. Ideations of harm (both self-imposed and inflicted) haunt Eileen's subconscious. She can sense a burden, a command to assimilate to the expectations of the nuclear family; fighting against the stigmatisation of hushed-victims. There's no wonder basements are having such an incredible cinematic come-back as of late, as their on-screen liminality provides both contextual and emotional tension for their critical commentary. What's hiding in the shadows is a rhetoric more powerful than any monster, or unconscious body. In Oldroyd's case, his pivotal basement sequence is an unnerving exercise in exposition; connecting two distant narrative revelations to unravel his integral commentary on the patriarchal ripples of the post-war boom.

As the film reaches its inevitable coda, smoke shrouds the frame in heavenly peace with Mother Nature's reckoning. All roads lead to Boxing Day; another holiday in a calendar year where picture-perfect families and sane citizens of old rejoice after Christmas, in harmless unity. Yet, Eileen is nowhere to be seen in the on-going traffic. 

Eileen premiered at this year's , as part of the Premieres program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.