The Eternal Daughter, 2022.
Written and Directed by Joanna Hogg.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Joseph Mydell, Carly-Sophia Davies, Alfie Sankey-Green, Zinnia Davies-Cooke, and August Joshi.
An artist and her elderly mother confront long-buried secrets when they return to a former family home, now a hotel haunted by its mysterious past.
It is a bold act of confidence that Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter is being promoted as a straight-up ghost story wearing its Hammer horror atmosphere and inspirations on its sleeve (the opening shot is a familiar area perspective tracking the characters making their way to a practically empty and eerie hotel).
To be fair, it is a ghost story, but it takes place in the universe of Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir films, now decades later with Julie Hart, a respected director played by Tilda Swinton, who played the character’s mother in those films (previously, the role was inhabited by her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne). The required skill to effectively take those heavy dramas and transfer that material into the horror genre for the third entry in this series is immense, and the fact that she does so while maintaining her fingerprints as a filmmaker offers up more reason as to why the legendary Martin Scorsese is continuously willing to executive produce her projects.
Joanna Hogg’s ambition doesn’t end there, though, as The Eternal Daughter is another interrogation of personal life and art, with Tilda Swinton also reprising the role of Julie’s mom Rosalind, making for a formidable acting challenge that the brilliant performer crushes, which is made more impressive when one considers that this is also a pandemic era production where they are also the only two characters on screen (captured in shot reverse shot for thematic purposes) for most of the 96-minute running time.
Upon arriving to stay at the hotel, Julie and Rosalind find that their room is already occupied despite having booked it months in advance, with hardly anyone else in the building aside from the receptionist (a dry Carly-Sophia Davies) and the groundskeeper (the gentle and talkative Joseph Mydell). Nevertheless, they are given an alternative first-floor room where Julie begins working on her next script while encouraging Rosalind to reminisce on her memories in the hotel, a manor once belonging to her aunt that she lived in during World War II.
Unsurprisingly, this is also where Joanna Hogg starts dissecting the mother-daughter relationship, illuminating what Julie is actually trying to accomplish here, what Rosalind’s memories of this place actually are, and how their bond has evolved or devolved over the years. Without giving away much, there appears to be some resentment on both sides of these entirely different people, further allowing Tilda Swinton to tap into a more expansive range. Of course, internal questions also come up regarding whether or not Julie is morally acceptable in trying to provoke such personal confession for script material.
In between this, Joanna Hogg is deploying all the classic and cliché things-go-bump-in-the-night noises, accentuating that writer’s block while also playing into the realization that what Julie thought she knew about this place and these memories for her mother were incorrect. Everything from outside fog to afterlife greens makes up the visual style, keeping Julie mystified even if the film is never necessarily scary or elicits a sense of danger. If anything, these aspects of The Eternal Daughter occasionally feel tedious, primarily since it’s clear early on what ghosts represent in this story. In the film’s defense, it is also not trying to be a horror movie but more to evoke the feeling of one for its own narrative purposes, and it largely succeeds.
There is also a legitimate concern that The Eternal Daughter could be frustrating for unassuming moviegoers or VOD purchasers unaware that the meat of the story contains more emotional resonance for those familiar with The Souvenir films. I also have to admit I wasn’t as interested until it dawned on me that these were the same characters, even if the film was technically well-made and terrifically acted. It is unquestionably a self-contained story and fascinating regardless, but mileage will vary based on those factors. Honestly, the dual roles Tilda Swinton pulls off with pinpoint precision could be watched for eternity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]