Review: ‘Eileen’ (2023), starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland and Owen Teague

December 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Eileen” (2023)

Directed by William Oldroyd

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1964 in an unnamed city in Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Eileen” (based on the 2015 novel of the same film) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A shy administrative assistant at a juvenile detention center becomes enamored with a newly hired psychiatrist at the same job, and the two women do their own kind of pushback on what society expects from women. 

Culture Audience: “Eileen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the book on which the movie is based, and movies about repression and mental illness that take an unexpected turn.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Much like the movie’s namesake, “Eileen” appears to be going one way and then goes in a very different direction. The cast members’ intriguing performances are the main reason to watch this psychological drama, which takes a very dark turn near the end. The movie is weakened by a vague ending that doesn’t give the closure and answers that were given in the book.

Directed by William Oldroyd, “Eileen” is based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel of the same name. Moshfegh and Luke Goebel co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “Eileen.” The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

“Eileen” takes place during a bitterly cold winter in 1964, in an unnamed Massachusetts city not far from Boston. (“Eileen” was actually filmed in New York and New Jersey.) Eileen Dunlop (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is a 24-year-old bachelorette, who lives a dreary existence with her alcoholic, widower father Jim Dunlop (played by Shea Whigham), who is a former police chief. In addition to his alcoholism, there are indications that Jim has an undiagnosed mental illness.

Jim is verbally and physically abusive to Eileen, who is miserable living with her father, but she can’t afford to move out of the house. Eileen doesn’t report the abuse because she knows that Jim still has friends in the local police force. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Eileen has a co-dependent, love/hate relationship with her father. She hates his abuse, but she also wants to feel needed, because he depends on her to take care of him.

Eileen has an older sister named Joanne, who is married and hasn’t come by to visit in quite some time. Jim tells Eileen in no uncertain terms that Joanne is his favorite child. During one of Jim’s many drunken rants, he tells Eileen that he wishes that Eileen were as organized as Joanne is. There are hints that Jim probably sexually abused Joanne as a child, which would explain why Joanne is keeping her distance from him as an adult.

For the past three or four years, Eileen has been working as a secretary/administrative assistant at Moorehead, a boys’ juvenile detention center, which is essentially a prison. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that Eileen is a college dropout. At her job, Eileen isn’t very well-liked by the other secretaries in the office, because she’s quiet and keeps mostly to herself. Mrs. Murray (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan) and Mrs. Stevens (played by Tonye Patano) are the two of the nosy co-workers who speak in gossipy and condescending tones to Eileen.

The beginning of the movie shows that Eileen is very introverted, but she’s not as prim and proper as she appears to the outside world. Eileen is kind of a kinky voyeur: She puts ice down her underwear after watching a couple’s makeout session. Eileen’s love life is non-existent, but she has vivid sexual fantasies about having sex with a Moorehead guard named Randy (played by Owen Teague), who’s about the same age as Eileen.

However, someone else on the job arouses Eileen’s sexual interest even more than Randy. Her name is Rebecca St. John (played by Anne Hathaway), who is Moorehead’s newly hired prison psychologist. Eileen is entranced with Rebecca from the moment that she meets this new co-worker. Rebecca, who is originally from New York City, looks and acts more like a glamorous movie star than a psychologist.

At one point, Rebecca tells Eileen that although she’s had plenty of boyfriends, she’s never been married. Rebecca says her dating relationships are “just for fun” and never last. Rebecca comes across as a progressive (she believes that psychedelic drugs should be used as therapy) and independent (she say she loves living by herself), which is the opposite of the conservative and stifling lifestyle that Eileen feels she is being pressured to live.

Eileen is infatuated with Rebecca’s sophisticated ways and seems to be fascinated with everything that Rebecca does. Rebecca notices this admiration and makes an effort to befriend Eileen, who is very flattered by the attention and the compliments that she gets from Rebecca. It’s obvious that Eileen wants her relationship with Rebecca to be more than a friendship, but does Rebecca feels the same way?

One day, Eileen notices Rebecca having a counseling session with an inmate named Lee Polk (played by Sam Nivola) and his mother, who is identified in the movie only as Mrs. Polk (played by Marin Ireland). Lee is in prison for murdering his father by stabbing him to death in the father’s bed. The father was a police officer who worked in the same police department as Eileen’s father Jim.

Eileen can see the counseling session through glass windows, but she can’t hear what’s being said behind closed doors. However, Eileen knows that the session ended badly because Mrs. Polk storms out and shouts, “Filthy, nasty boy!” Meanwhile, Lee smirks in reaction to seeing his mother upset.

Shortly after the session ends, Rebecca asks Eileen if she thinks Mrs. Polk is an angry woman. Eileen doesn’t know enough about Mrs. Polk to give an opinion either way. However, Eileen tells Rebecca that she thinks Lee is intelligent and that he doesn’t seem like the type to be a cold-blooded murderer.

A turning point in Eileen’s relationship with Rebecca happens when Rebecca asks Eileen to go with her to a local bar. Rebecca says it’s because she’s new to the area and wants to meet more new people. But as far as Eileen is concerned (based on how excitedly she gets ready for this meet-up), Rebecca has asked her on a date. At the bar, Rebecca will only dance with Eileen and literally shoves a man away who tries to cut in on Rebecca and Eileen dancing together.

One of the strengths of “Eileen” is how all of the principal cast members make their characters very believable. Even when not much is happening in certain scenes, the performances of McKenzie and Hathaway make viewers wonder what Eileen and Rebecca might be really thinking, compared to what they’re saying out loud. That’s an example of the compelling acting in this movie.

Viewers who don’t know what’s in the “Eileen” book or don’t know what happens in the last third of the movie probably won’t see the plot twist coming. The “Eileen” book is told from the perspective of a middle-aged Eileen looking back on her life. The “Eileen” movie does not give that retrospective context and therefore brings up questions that remain unanswered by the end of the film. However, the movie has an impeccable buildup to its most suspenseful moments, even if the ending won’t be as satisfying as some viewers hope it will be.

Neon released “Eileen” in select U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘The Boogeyman’ (2023), starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton and David Dastmalchian

May 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina and Vivien Lyra Blair in “The Boogeyman” (Photo by Patti Perret/20th Century Studios)

“The Boogeyman” (2023)

Directed by Rob Savage

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror film “The Boogeyman” (based on a short story by Stephen King) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister experience an evil creature in their home after their mother dies, but their therapist father doesn’t believe his daughters.

Culture Audience: “The Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Stephen King and unimaginative horror movies filled with a lot of clichés.

David Dastmalchian in “The Boogeyman” (Photo by Patti Perret/20th Century Studios).

Dull, dimwitted, and very derivative, “The Boogeyman” offers minimal scares and has too many scenes of people talking about certain horrors and not enough scenes actually showing those horrors. The movie’s last scene is very weak and underwhelming. The majority of “The Boogeyman” is literally a back-and-forth slog of two underage sisters (separately or together) looking frightened in dark rooms and then trying to convince their skeptical father that they’re being haunted. And when the evil creature they see finally does appears in full view, it’s just more of the same type of showdown that’s been in countless other horror movies.

Directed by Rob Savage, “The Boogeyman” is based on Stephen King’s short story that was first published in the March 1973 issue of Cavalier magazine, and then republished in King’s 1978 short-story collection “Night Shift.” King’s “The Boogeyman” (which had only three characters) had a much better ending than the formulaic dreck that’s in “The Boogeyman” movie, whose screenplay was written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman. “The Boogeyman” movie adds several characters to give the story enough for a feature-length film. But the additions do not bring any creativity to the story. Everything is a rehash of many other horror movies about an evil creature or spirit that’s haunting a household.

In “The Boogeyman” short story, the only characters were a psychotherapist named Will Harper, his client Lester Billings and The Boogeyman. The story took place in one setting: Will’s office, during a therapy session between Will and Lester. Will has a wife and kids, who are mentioned in the short story, but these other Harper family characters do not appear in the story.

In “The Boogeyman” movie (which was filmed on location in New Orleans), Will Harper (played by Chris Messina) is a supporting character, while his two daughters are more of the focus. The main protagonist is 16-year-old Sadie Harper (played by Sophie Thatcher), a moody introvert. The main location in the movie is the Harper house, where Will has his therapist office. Sadie and her inquisitive 10-year-old sister Sawyer Harper (played by Vivien Lyra Blair) live there, but Will is a widower in the movie. It’s mentioned that Will’s wife (the mother of Sadie and Sawyer) died fairly recently in car accident.

Viewers know the death is recent because early on in the movie, Sadie is shown at her high school (in one of several scenes that take place at the school), and many of the students react to her like someone who’s just come back from a brief hiatus. On her first day back at school since her mother’s death, Sadie is wearing one of her mother’s dresses. And (cliché alert) a group of “mean girls” bully Sadie about it near her locker.

The leader of the mean girls is a snooty blonde named Natalie (played by Maddie Nichols), who says the most to make Sadie feel bad about Sadie’s choice in clothing. When Sadie tells Natalie, “You’re being a bitch,” it leads to a tussle, where Sadie gets shoved hard against her locker. The only student at school whom Sadie considers to be a close friend is Bethany (played by Madison Hu), who sticks up for Sadie whenever she can.

Back at home, the Harper family members are dealing with their grief in different ways. Will has become more caught up in his work and more emotionally distant from his daughters. Ironically, even though Will is a therapist who’s trained to help people with things such as grief, he’s avoiding helping his own daughters process their own grief. Instead, Will has hired a therapist named Dr. Weller (played by LisaGay Hamilton) to counsel Sadie and Sawyer.

Sadie would rather talk to Will about how to cope with her mother’s death, but Will tells Sadie to talk to Dr. Weller about it instead. This rejection causes Sadie to feel more alienated and depressed. Sawyer clings to Sadie for emotional support, but Sadie is barely hanging on to feeling like she’s capable of functioning in the way she used to before their mother died. And things are about to get worse when Sadie and Sawyer find out that their house is haunted.

One evening, when Will has seen his last client of the day, a mysterious stranger shows up unannounced at the house. His name is Lester Billings (played by David Dastmalchian), and he asks Will if he could have a therapy session. Will tells Lester that he doesn’t give therapy to a new client without a phone consultation first. However, Lester pleads for Will’s help. Lester looks so sad and desperate that Will agrees to make an exception for Lester.

During the therapy session, Will asks Lester to tell more about himself. Lester says that people think that Lester killed his wife and kids, one at a time, even though Lester says he’s not guilty. Lester says his first child was a baby girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome. Lester and his wife had two other kids.

And then, the conversation gets weirder. Lester says that he glimpsed “it” before one of his children died of a broken neck. Lester shows Will a drawing that Lester made of the creature that Lester says he saw. Lester says to Will: “It cares for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” By this point, Will has gotten freaked out by this conversation, so he excuses himself, goes in another room, and calls the police to report that a potentially dangerous man is in his home.

Meanwhile, Sadie has come home, and Will tells her to go to her room because there’s a stranger in the house that Will needs to have removed. Will goes back in his office, but Lester isn’t there. A frantic Will searches for Lester in the house. Sadie hears noises that sound like two people are fighting in her bedroom. When she looks in her bedroom closet, she sees Will dead, from an apparent suicide by hanging.

None of this is really spoiler information, because the main things that keep happening in “The Boogeyman” movie are typical “shadows and bumps in the night” scenarios, where Sadie and Sawyer are in dark or barely lit rooms (apparently, the Harper family doesn’t know the meaning of having good overhead lighting), where they hear or see something strange, but when they investigate further, it appears to be nothing but their imagination. When Sawyer and Sadie tell Will, he doesn’t believe them.

Sawyer has a glowing orb that’s the size of a bowling ball, which she uses as lighting in a dark room, instead of doing what most kids would do if they’re frightened in a dark room: Turn on a room light. But no, Sawyer doesn’t do that. Instead, she rolls this glowing orb on the floor, like she’s a paranormal bowler, but with no bowling pins.

And predictably, wherever the orb stops on the floor, you know it’s going to be right where something “scary” is. Seriously, this glowing orb is not even remotely believable as a toy that most 10-year-old girls would want to have, let alone use as a way to see in a dark room. It’s one of the many phony-looking things about “The Boogeyman,” which lumbers along at a glacial pace and fills up a lot of time showing scenes of mopey Sadie being a social outsider at her school.

As already revealed in the movie’s trailer, when Dr. Lester does some strobe-light therapy on Sadie and Sawyer, the girls both see The Boogeyman, but Dr. Lester doesn’t see this creature. The strobe-light therapy looks like a very questionable thing for a therapist to do to emotionally fragile children. There are long stretches of the movie where Will is not seen at all in the Harper household, even though he works from home. Will’s absence is never explained. It’s just more of this movie’s phoniness on display.

There’s a subplot in “The Boogeyman” about Sadie being an amateur sleuth to find out more about Lester, which leads to some not-scary-at-all flashbacks/visions involving Lester’s wife Rita Billings (played by Marin Ireland). A better movie would have had the creepy character of Lester in a lot more scenes, instead of killing him off so early in the movie. The performances in “The Boogeyman” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t anything special, and they certainly don’t do much to elevate this very drab and slow-paced movie.

“The Boogeyman” was originally going to be released directly to Hulu (and other Disney-owned streaming services outside the U.S.), but those plans were changed after horror movies such as Paramount Pictures’ “Smile” and 20th Century Pictures’ “Barbarian” became hits in movie theaters in 2022, after these horror flicks were originally planned to be released as direct-to-streaming movies. (20th Century Pictures, the theatrical distributor of “The Boogeyman,” is owned by Disney.) “The Boogeyman” might satisfy viewers who want the most basic, run-of-the-mill horror movie that’s mild on scares. But considering how the movie’s ending is such an inferior (and overly formulaic) departure from the original short story, “The Boogeyman” will just leave a lot of viewers feeling disappointed instead of satisfyingly terrified.

20th Century Pictures will release “The Boogeyman” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.

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