Writer and Director: Joanna Hogg
For fans of the actor, what could be better than a Tilda Swinton performance? Well, how about two in one film. In Joanna Hogg’s latest drama, which receives a Special Presentation at the BFI London Film Festival 2022, Swinton plays a mother and daughter revisiting a strange hotel filled with the elder woman’s memories. Using horror tropes but feeding them through a simple country house and domestic family set-up, Hogg’s exploration of memory and private trauma is a real showcase for the talents of her doubled-up lead performer.
Arriving at a remote hotel for a few days, Julie is frustrated to find the room she reserved isn’t available and struggles to convince the surly receptionist to care. Over the subsequent days, Julie is plagues by insomnia and as she fusses over the prim and distant mother, the empty hotel begins to confine her as work and life suffer.
Hogg’s film plays its cards close to its chest, retaining a tight hold of plot developments and of the atmosphere that the director creates. It is not until the final segment of The Eternal Daughter, for example, that the audience even learns why the characters have come to this hotel and what time of year it is. That creates an interesting unmooring that subjects both Julie and the audience to the whims of the movie.
Hoggs adds a slipperiness about time that speaks to the focus of memory and the eventual reveal, particularly blurring the boundaries between day and night as Julie wanders around in the dark walking the dog and tries to fall asleep in daylight. The absence of other guests and, for the most part other characters, only increases the atmospheric scenario setting.
But The Eternal Daughter, though moody and well-established fails to fully capitalise on all of these possibilities, the eventual conclusion not sufficiently unexpected or meaningful to entirely warrant the lengthy build-up and the many opaque conversations or references the Director employs. With mist endlessly rolling, the audience is primed to expect that things are not what they seem and thus they prove to be.
But this is no way devalues Swinton’s multi-layered and multiple performances. Her Julie is fragile and often anxious, wanting everything to be perfect for the visit but unafraid to be that customer while as the mother, Swinton is a woman of a previous generation, holding back her emotions and although kindly, not likely to express much to her child. Part of the joy of the film is watching these two women overlap with Swinton offering a credible interaction and ease between two people who know each other well. And very nice work from Carly-Sophia Davies as the ever-dismissive receptionist and waitress who may or not be the same person.
It is pointed that Julie and her mother appear only once in the same shot, reflected in a mirror and there is far more craft to it than Hogg wanting to limit editorial fiddling in post-production. With plenty of interesting techniques both in style and performance it is a shame The Eternal Daughter doesn’t add up to slightly more, but two-for-one Swinton is certainly worthwhile.
The Eternal Daughter is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.