Old friends Tilda Swinton and director Joanna Hogg work together frequently, as they did recently in The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II, dramas with a bit of truth about the filmmaker’s love life and career. Now the two are reunited for The Eternal Daughter, a haunting, atmospheric mother and daughter story that is the closest thing to a ghost story that I think anyone would expect to see from Hogg.
The mother and daughter in this case are both played by Swinton, who is becoming quite good in a dual role capacity. Hogg centers her story again around a filmmaker, Julie, who along with her mother Rosalind check in to a secluded hotel the latter used to visit as a child with her family. While we don’t see it right away, perhaps because Julie and Rosalind share the same face we assume closeness, but there’s an emotional gap between them. Julie hopes to learn more about her mother, in hopes of making a movie. She gets more than she bargained for.
From the moment they step into this hotel, it gives off creepy horror movie vibes. From the hilariously mean-spirited girl at the front desk (Carly-Sophia Davies) who can hardly be bothered with this fussy pair of old broads, to the creeping shadows and fog it has ominous written all over it.
Whereas The Souvenir was Hogg working out unresolved feelings of guilt about a failed relationship, The Eternal Daughter is clearly her facing ghosts of the past, specifically about her mother. The choices that both women made are examined, torn apart in brief but heated conversation. Julie scarcely understands Rosalind, this woman she’s been trying to please literally her entire life. Now getting up there in age herself, Julie has to wonder if it was all worth it, or did she spend those many years wasting her time.
Hogg’s choice to place this within the constructs of a ghost story (It seems like Julie and Rosalind are the only hotel guests, and yet it’s “full”) is brilliant. Looking at the choices we’ve made in life is scary business, which is why so many people fail to do it. It’s like Hogg is building a franchise of movies going through aspects of her own life, with The Eternal Daughter a continuation of what she started with The Souvenir. Like much of her work, the pacing is slow and deliberate, at times too much so. Fortunately, it’s tough to get bored watching Swinton work against herself in dual roles, proving why she’s one of the greatest actresses in the world. She manages to create two completely different characters in Julie and Rosalind, and yet she keeps just enough similar between them that we can see how alike they are. They don’t actually do much in the movie but talk and lounge around, with the serious stuff broken up frequently by the awfully rude customer service.
Hogg’s work has always been an acquired taste. The Eternal Daughter, and the pair of films that preceded it, are extremely personal works and Hogg has crafted beautiful, painful stories out of her experiences. But they aren’t tremendously exciting and they require a lot of emotional engagement. However, we can all agree that Swinton is always worth watching, and here she’s at her best opposite the one co-star who can meet at her level.
The Eternal Daughter is in theaters now courtesy of A24.