Tilda Swinton contends with familial ghosts in Joanna Hoggs’ vulnerable follow-up to her The Souvenir duology

The Eternal Daughter Review


Below is an advanced review out of the London Film Festival. The Eternal Daughter does not yet have a release date.

Social realism has been the benchmark of Joanna Hogg’s filmmaking since she burst onto the scene with Unrelated in 2007 but six films in, the British director has shifted gears a little. Taking inspiration from Gothic cinematic classics such as The Innocents and Night of the Demon, Hogg delivers a nervy, metatextual familial drama navigating the perils of memory and the unknowability of the people who raised us, with a ghostly undercurrent.
The keen supernatural influence is evident from the get-go. A mournful flute sets the atmospheric tone as the lights of a white taxi penetrate a thick, ominous evening fog. The cabbie regales a spooky tale to his outsider passengers, Rosalind and daughter Julie (both played by Tilda Swinton), as he drives them down a dark country lane towards an old stately manor in rural Wales that once belonged to the elderly mother’s relative. Thick trees and bushes isolate the aged aristocratic home, now a boutique hotel, with stone gargoyles keeping watch from above. Inside, the green glare from fire exit signs creates a sinister glow in quiet corridors and staircases with the portraits of long-dead inhabitants covering walls. Later, a crash zoom on Ros’ springer spaniel and a split-focus close-up of Julie and an empty doorway show Hoggs’ affection for genre hallmarks. She cements the eeriness with a soundscape layered with howling winds, shrieking foxes, and creaking doors that put filmmaker Julie increasingly on edge after she checks in the pair of them for her mother’s birthday.
The actor – Hogg’s real-life best friend since childhood – deftly takes over the role played by her own daughter, Honor Swinton-Byrne, in The Souvenir Parts One and Two. Middle-aged Julie is more sure of herself than her 20-something counterpart but retains an anxious quality that, combined with this mature forthrightness, frequently puts her at odds with the hotel’s receptionist-cum-waitress (Carly-Sophia Davies). Passive aggressive exchanges over kettles and room availability between the local Welsh girl and the English, upper-middle-class filmmaker add another layer of uncomfortable tension though these moments are not without humor. Hogg trains the camera on each woman’s face to hammer home each opponent’s unsaid war of wits with Davies’ thinly veiled contempt and bluntness towards Swinton’s flustered guest, earning several nervous giggles – as does an especially playful framing of Julie’s stern stare from the staircase down at the Welsh girl captured in a compact mirror. Davies certainly counters the expectation that “the customer is always right” to biting effect but as with all the characters in this intimate story, personal turmoil is never far from the surface of their actions.
Rocking a gray perm and hard wrinkles, Swinton slots back into the role of Rosalind easily enough but she’s not the same woman; more docile and melancholy, the widow is no longer the caretaker in the relationship. There’s a hint of the Grey Gardens about this codependent bond; Julie is married but, in lieu of a child, has directed pent-up motherly energy back at her own. A cloud of wariness and weariness informs Swinton’s elderly turn as the thematic conceit of memory, and the memories we choose to pass on, slowly reveals itself through Julie’s desperate determination to crack the mystery of her mother. Is the house haunted? Or is Julie haunted by the guilt of “trespassing,” as she tells Joseph Mydell’s kindly night porter, into her mother’s life by secretly recording their conversations for use in her work?
Julie’s fretful nighttime excursions through the misty gardens and spooky manor at times feel repetitive, causing the pace to drag. The mother-daughter tête-à-tête, over card writing and the dinner table, are laden with knowing middle-class assertions about fish knives and awful relatives, but they don’t breathe as easily as when Swinton is dialoguing with another actor. That is, until the final act. Here Swinton, as Julie, leaves everything on the dining room table in a touching, vulnerable, cathartic release of emotion as the enigmatic layers of reality and memory unravel. Hogg’s commitment to open and honest introspection feels especially potent with her affecting use of genre staples and Swinton continues to be her most reliable, empathetic collaborator.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Hanna Ines Flint

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