Ever have a complicated relationship with a loved one? Grieving someone close to you? In the mood for a double dose of Tilda Swinton? After all, she’s no stranger to playing dual roles — check out her standout supporting turn(s) in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! But in award-winning filmmaker Joanna Hogg’s latest indie effort with Swinton — having also collaborated on both The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II — Swinton is at her best, on a more serious note, playing both the mother and daughter of a seemingly complicated yet loving relationship that we see further unfold in a ghostly, gothic, beautiful way. This is A24’s The Eternal Daughter, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will hit the masses on December 2.
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Earlier this year, Swinton also starred in George Miller’s latest film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, alongside Idris Elba. One could argue both that film and The Eternal Daughter may not be for everyone due to their distinct, abstract qualities geared perhaps toward a niche audience. But there’s no denying, no matter the viewer, that The Eternal Daughter sticks with you. Here’s our take.
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Low-Key and Tender
Gothic, contemplative, slow burn, ghost story — just listing the film’s qualities makes me wonder if The Eternal Daughter is a horror film. Maybe, though one may refute the claim by arguing we don’t experience any “pop-out” moments. But are those needed for a horror film? Joanna Hogg, in writing and directing a somewhat meta story about a filmmaker struggling to write her next project, contains plenty of eerie, mysterious moments that often leave us clutching our seats in anticipation of what’s to come.
The film follows an artist named Julie and her elderly mother as they (or maybe just Julie?) confront long-buried secrets when they return to a former family home, now a hotel haunted by its mysterious past. Julie is trying to learn more details about her mother’s life in order to make a film about her. In checking in to the hotel, Julie is already off to a bad start with the dry-witted receptionist (the excellent Carly-Sophia Davies, in perhaps a star-making supporting turn). And this is where Hogg cleverly weaves humor into her tale. For a subdued, thoughtful film like this, I was pleasantly surprised by how many other viewers often laughed out loud in the theater where I saw the film
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But then the film turns eerie again. Fog seems to emanate from the grounds, covering the place in a shroud of secrecy. It seems as though Julie and Rosalind are the only ones staying at the hotel. Without giving too much away as to the events (or lack thereof) that transpire during Julie’s stay the hotel, I will say that Hogg successfully blends genres here, turning what seems like a mere ghost story into a thematic study on the memories that haunt us, both bad and good.
More specifically, it’s a captivating exploration of relationships and the things we leave behind. The Eternal Daughter is clearly an ode to familial female ties that leaves much to unravel after the fog lifts. And watching Swinton expertly dish her dialogue back and forth between alter egos is a master class in acting and inspiring for all the thespians out there.
Capturing Mother-Daughter Affection
Speaking of alter egos — with both of Hogg’s Souvenir films, Swinton had teamed up with her real-life daughter for authentic, on-screen chemistry. But in The Eternal Daughter, Hogg and Swinton take that concept to the next level, with Swinton playing her character’s own mom. The effect leaves the film open-ended, but definitely not in a frustrating way.
“I can imagine certain noises my mother would’ve made while she was alive,” Swinton once told Variety. “I speak as a mother, a mother is not as hard on her child as we are on ourselves — and that’s a shame. It’s a shame that we are so tough on ourselves. So, I think our mothers would be moved to see how tough we are on ourselves, and hope we would forgive ourselves.”
“I hope when audiences see this film, that it will have some kind of cathartic effect,” added Hogg, whose mother died unexpectedly while The Eternal Daughter was being edited.
The film is honest and poignant in its kaleidoscopic refractions of the frustration inherent in a process that’s only just beginning. It certainly left a lasting impact on me, causing me to evaluate my own family rapports and the memories we shared. We’re all creatives at heart, and The Eternal Daughter succeeds in yet another way by making Swinton’s Julie character so relatable as an artist with a bit of “writer’s block” as she navigates her life on a mental and emotional level.
And finally, the minimalist nature of The Eternal Daughter is inspiration to all the up-and-coming filmmakers out there. With a limited cast and only one location, Hogg proves you don’t need elaborate, Marvel-esque set pieces to keep your audience gripped.