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Review by Rich Cline |
dir William Oldroyd
scr Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh
prd Anthony Bregman, Peter Cron, Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, William Oldroyd
with Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Sam Nivola, Owen Teague, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Tonye Patano, Peter Von Berg, Julian Gavilanes, Joel Marsh Garland, Louis Vanaria
release US/UK 1.Dec.23
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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While skilfully evoking the style of a 1960s melodrama, this thriller remains oddly inert, so steeped in cliches that nothing surprises us. There are intriguing things going on, and strongly heightened performances from a terrific cast, but gifted director William Oldroyd never quite digs beneath the surface to draw out some resonance for the audience. So in the end it feels like a lot of tease with no payoff.
In snowy New England, Eileen (McKenzie) is working in the local prison while caring for her drunken father Jim (Wigham), the retired police chief. She takes particular interest in young inmate Lee (Nivola), who murdered his own cop father. Then high-powered police psychiatrist Rebecca (Hathaway) turns up. She's lusty and seductive, everything Eileen wishes she could be. And she actually notices Eileen, which most people don't. As they begin to hang out together, Eileen is enticed by breaking rules, but she's also drawn into a situation that's far more transgressive than she could have imagined.
Hoping to shake up her boring life, Eileen sees Rebecca's attentions as something dangerous and promising. But the plot shifts with loud clunk that diverts events in a direction that feels strangely pointless. Issues involving dark impulses and identity are swirling through most scenes, but the script never gets around to grappling with any of them, and the most inventive touches are the sudden bursts of Eileen's violent imagination. Meanwhile, the production design does much of the heavy lifting, especially Eileen's rickety smoke-filled car.
In the focal role, McKenzie has terrific presence as a young woman who never thought she was worthy of much. So when someone pays attention to her, she quickly blossoms, putting on her late mother's glamorous clothes. Her scenes with a scene-chewing Hathaway are superbly played, generating some steamy chemistry. And Hathaway gets a chance to layer some nuance into her femme fatale-style role. Wigham and Ireland (as Lee's mother) also register strongly, even if they play scenes to the rafters.
This overblown period style might have worked if the script took the audience deeper into this situation. But once the noir-thriller plot kicks in, the film simply skims across the surface, dropping hints that never develop into something meaningful. Even the possibility of bigger themes are simply lost in the shuffle. The atmosphere is riveting, and the situation has a nice sense of desperation about it, but the film itself never quite goes anywhere with it.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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