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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

Quick Reviews: 'Eileen', 'Saltburn' | Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Barry Keoghan, Emerald Fennell

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie dancing, Barry Keoghan at a dinner table
Eileen (L), Saltburn (R)


From time to time, you simply need to break out of your own prison by committing some crimes. Or something to that effect. Psychological thriller Eileen adapts Ottessa Moshfegh's novel of the same name, in fact by the author herself along with co-writer Luke Goebel, while directing duties have been handed to William Oldroyd. The story is set in an aggressively gloomy town in Massachusetts where a 24-year-old Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) is living with her widowed, aggressively alcoholic dad Jim (Shea Whigham) and working at a youth detention centre. Constantly assaulted verbally by her dad and living a very lonely life, Eileen's life gets a spark when a new psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) arrives at the centre. Drawn to Rebecca romantically, Eileen also soon finds herself in a tricky situation, which is tied to a new inmate and his family's secrets.

You're always running up a hill to an extent when your film's entire premise relies on viewers seeing a main character as ostracised, which is especially hard when the text posits them to be more unattractive than a person playing them. That can sometimes be ignored if the rest of the text serves that setup but this film is a much trickier operation because it's entirely different when it really gets going. The filmmakers are exploring a feminine evolution of a young, repressed woman whose presence is dictated by men before Rebecca—a femme fatale of sorts—shows up.

The latter half works mostly thanks to McKenzie's performance, although Richard Reed Parry's sinuous score and Ari Wegner's sensual photography underline Eileen's blossoming-in-progress. That is because the actor finds and delivers a perfect contrast to Hathaway's confident allure, therefore communicating to the audience the possibilities that Eileen has if she's willing to find a way out of her prison. Eileen is challenged and forged by both rage and regret towards the end—undoubtedly also alienating some audience members along the way as she wonders what else might be out there for her to encounter.

Smileys: Thomasin McKenzie, score

Frowneys: Premise


Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie dancing at a bar


Not sure that it's minds that people are losing with this one but property, money and dignity, perhaps even time, are all certainly on the line. Emerald Fennell writes and directs psychological drama Saltburn as her sophomore effort with some dark comedy replacing the pepper. The title refers to an old, upper-class mansion stationed in Northamptonshire, England, owned by the idiosyncratic Catton family. Studying at Oxford, Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) meets and becomes obsessed with a fellow student and one of the Catton kids, Felix (Jacob Elordi), who then invites the poorer and rougher Oliver to spend his summer holiday at Saltburn with this aristocratic family. Oliver gets to know Felix's callous parents, mom Elspeth (Rosamund Pike) and dad James (Richard E. Grant), unstable sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) and rather unfriendly cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe).

Fennell as a filmmaker is clearly curious about tonal trickery based on the return to that tightrope walk, but what is very surprising about this specific adventure is that her direction overwhelms the writing, despite that the latter is more so where she made her mark. Visually and architecturally Saltburn is always providing splendour and opportunities for actors to gravitate to, from Charlotte Dirickx's salient decor and Suzie Davies' sets that highlight the superficial nature of the characters to DoP Linus Sandgren's moody lighting, and Fennell's frames use those aspects and the cast skilfully. But the longer that the charades go on, the more you notice the shallowness of the story being told because it pales in comparison to the style on display.

The screenwriting lacks the bite that you'd expect since aside from a few funny lines, Fennell's satire turns into a vague soap opera due to its repetition and inadequate purpose when we're past the first plot twist and heading towards the climax (no, not that kind of climax; that's earlier in the film). Treating the Cattons as disposable when they actually do have influence and leverage or not giving Oliver enough motivation to overcome that—not to mention including that dreadful scene of him humping a grave for no reason—does beg the question if the film ever had a purpose to begin with? It's not smart enough to work purely as popcorn entertainment and it's definitely not piercing enough to invite thoughtful analysis in years to come.

Smileys: Set decoration, directing

Frowneys: Screenplay, characterisation, ending


Barry Keoghan at a dinner table, reflected on it as well
Amazon MGM Studios

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