Here’s a peculiar misfire of a psycho-noir, for which Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh have co-adapted Moshfegh’s Booker-shortlisted novel of the same name and William Oldroyd directs. It’s acted and presented with a weirdly solemn intensity, like a deadly serious remake of some lost John Waters pulp classic. Gif immortality beckons for the bizarre moment in which Anne Hathaway’s character grapples with what looks worryingly like a fake cat, throwing it out of the front door with a yowling noise on the soundtrack.
The setting is a small Massachusetts town in the early 60s, and Thomasin McKenzie plays Eileen, a mousy and repressed young woman working as a filing assistant at a juvenile prison. At home she is effectively the carer for her aggressively alcoholic widowed father Jim (Shea Whigham), an ex-cop who likes to get drunk, brandish his gun at the neighbours and humiliate Eileen. For her part, Eileen has repeated reveries of sex, vengeful violence and self-harm: bizarre micro-fantasies that are startling at first, but also verging on the clumsy and which undermine the impact of a real-world plot-twist to come.
For reasons she can’t quite understand, Eileen is emotionally thrilled by the new consultant psychologist that the jail has hired: Dr Rebecca Saint John (Hathaway), a stylish and sophisticated Harvard-educated woman with liberal ideas and dyed blonde hair who invites timid Eileen out for cocktails, evidently amused at the way this young woman is likely to blossom under her guidance. And just when the film looks like it’s going to ape Todd Haynes’s version of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol, with Hathaway in the Cate Blanchett role and McKenzie taking the submissive Rooney Mara part, something very strange and melodramatic happens.
This film certainly has its moments: it is hilarious when the hatchet-faced jail manager Mrs Murray (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) forces the mutinous young prisoners to watch the religious Yuletide pageant she has laid on for their edification, grimly entitled Christmas in Prison. It is intentionally funny, but I’m not sure how intentional the film’s other effects are. The performances from Hathaway and McKenzie are vehement and watchable, but the film itself is an unsatisfying and anticlimactic oddity.
• Eileen is released on 1 December in UK and Irish cinemas.