The Eternal Daughter (2022)

The Eternal Daughter
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Carly-Sophia Davies, Joseph Mydell
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 29.10.2022

Plot:
Julie (Tilda Swinton) and her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) have booked a couple of days in a hotel that used to belong to their family. Rosalind grew up in that house, and the two of them decided visiting childhood memories would be a very nice way to spend Rosalind’s birthday. Additionally, Julie, a filmmaker, is supposed to work on a new film and a change of scenery could do her good as well. But once in the hotel that is strangely empty of guests, the pressures of the past and the family secrets make things a little eerie.

The Eternal Daughter is an atmospheric film that is associative and evocative rather than narrative. The ending doesn’t quite work, but it is an engaging piece of cinema nevertheless.

The film poster showing Julie's (Tilda Swinton) face in a silhouette, as well as the lit windows of a big mansion. The entire thing looks like a 60s pulp cover.

The film plunges us into a Gothic world that is somewhat unmoored in time. The giant mansion, converted into a modern purpose as a hotel, seems utterly lost without guests. When the surly receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies who was my personal highlight of the film) is picked up by her boyfriend in a car blasting loud, fast beats, it feels like an intrusion, not only on the quietness of the hotel, but also on its timelessness and otherworldliness: suddenly we are reminded that this is not a fantastic world, but ours, right now.

Tilda Swinton is really the perfect choice for the roles, inhabiting both Julie and Rosalind completely. Their relationship – close, but not necessarily harmonic, shaped by Julie’s constant worrying about Rosalind’s comfort – feels completely vivid. The casting also reinforces the idea that this is a sequel to The Souvenir where Swinton’s real life daughter plays Julie, a filmmaker, and Swinton herself her mother.

Julie (Tilda Swinton) carrying a birthday cake with a single candle.

The Eternal Daughter is a meditation on memory and family history and how we remember, drawing on imagery of hauntings and horror film elements to conjure up the past. It’s in the very last revelation that the film fell apart for me a little. Not only did I see it coming, it feels like it was made by somebody who was not really aware of genre rules (and not somebody who decided to willfully break them). It makes the ending clumsy and unsatisfying. (If it had been up to me, I would have probably decided to leave everybody in the murk, everything doubtful, and not make any revelations at all.)

Nevertheless, I liked the atmosphere that Hogg conjures up, an eerieness she absolutely nails. I loved the theme of the film, and Swinton’s performance, and, as I said, Davies’ entire presence in the film. But with the ending, you leave the film with a sense of deflation instead of continued thoughtfulness – and that is rather disappointing.

Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) looking very seriously.

Summarizing: worth seeing, but not as good as I would have liked it to be.

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