The Eternal Daughter buries us in the apprehension and frustration of writing and self-discovery as if they were one act, inextricable necessities. It’s spectral; much of what’s going on or being said doesn’t actually connect, but feels like it should. In a world of ghosts, somehow it does—a phantom connection that hovers brilliantly over everything.
I did not like The Souvenir Part 1 or Part 2. Therefore carefully chose watching the The Eternal Daughter. Definitely delighted I saw the film, Tilda Swinton was great playing two roles, and finally I got Joanna Hogg.
A middle-aged woman and her elderly mother (both portrayed by Tilda Swinton) are staying at an eerie and old estate where they both have a past and strange and unexplainable hauntings of said past seem to come to light. From director Joanna Hogg (who directed Swinton and her daughter in 'The Souvenir Parts 1 and 2'), this is more or less a spiritual sequel (pardon the pun) to those films, as Swinton is essentially reprising her role of Rosalind from 'The Souvenir' films (her character's name in this is also Rosalind) and is now also playing the grown-up version of her daughter Julie from those films (her own daughter Honor Swinton-Byrne portrayed Julie in those films.) It was really quite interesting and unexpected to see a continuation of these two characters here in this film, but it really worked rather well, and of course Swinton is more than up to the task of brilliantly pulling double duty with dual roles here. She seems to have a knack for playing multiple roles in films, as we've seen time and again in films like 'Suspiria' and 'Hail Caesar'. Her dual performance here is obviously the star attraction, and it makes up for the rather minimalist yet also personal approach to the film (it was filmed in the midst of the pandemic after all.) Overall, while there's not much in the way of story or characters apart from Swinton's, this is still a masterful, personal, and ultimately rather effective character study and continuation of the characters of Julie and Rosalind from 'The Souvenir' films.
The Eternal Daughter is at its most poignant when it plunges into the personal – in Swinton’s retreating mother and faltering daughter, you can sense the director’s power growing as she continues to acknowledge herself.
As a story about a mother and daughter trying to move on from old wounds and contextualize their relationship, the film is perfectly adequate. But as a film watched on a chilly, damp fall day—not unlike the day I write this review—with a mug of hot cider, the coziest pajamas and Halloween just a few weeks away, I could not ask for anything better.
The Souvenir Part 1 and 2 were movies that did little for me, so even with my reservations I wasn't sure what to expect from The Eternal Daughter. Even with the presence of Tilda Swinton.
The most ironic thing of all, is that being a film with a very different structure - one of those of which it is often said that nothing happens in them - The Eternal Daughter manages to become a much more atmospheric and captivating experience even with how repetitive its structure is, because the questions that begin to stand out are: ''What is really happening?'' and ''Is what's happening real?
And while this may seem like a device that is often overused in stories that tackle this style that seeks to confuse the viewer, Joanna Hogg's approach communicates her illusion in a very captivating way, cause my interpretation may be very different from the one she has in her mind, and in the best of cases that might be right, but one way or another I think I enjoy it more this way.
One effective way to tell a tale of suspense is to employ the atmospheric slowburn approach, one that quietly but chillingly sizzles as it leads up to what is eventually (and supposedly) a startling revelation. However, writer-director Joanna Hogg’s attempt at pulling this off in her latest offering falls short, protractedly smoldering but never really catching fire. When a middle-aged English filmmaker and her aging mother (dual roles played by Tilda Swinton) pay a hoped-for nostalgic visit to a vintage country hotel that was once their extended family’s manor house, they set their sights on their stay giving them a chance to relive fond memories and to resolve certain aspects of their complex, sometimes-distant relationship (an irony given the devoted daughter’s earnest attempt at being a loving, dutiful caretaker). But, almost from the moment they arrive, things don’t play out as anticipated; events unfold with a surreal, unfathomable awkwardness in a setting befitting a gothic ghost story. So what’s going on here? That’s what the film seeks to explain. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to tell here, the story ultimately being more tedious than suspenseful, frequently relying on astonished reaction shots to things that mysteriously go bump in the night to carry the story forward. And, when “the big reveal” finally comes, it emerges more with a whimper than a bang (especially since it’s not particularly difficult to figure out what’s coming anyway). While the film is stylistic to a fault in terms of skillfully creating a suitable ambiance, the accompanying narrative is rather anemic by comparison. It’s almost as if the storyteller is spinning a vague yarn, one told with kid gloves, a **** frustration for those expecting something with more of a bite to it. While there’s a definite purpose behind this, given the picture’s attempt at exploring elements of the mother-daughter relationship typically not addressed in films like this, this set of restrained attributes nevertheless inhibits this offering from ever developing much of an edge to it (yawn). To the film’s credit, it features yet another fine performance by Swinton, but it’s regrettable that she’s not given much to work with. And, even with its comparatively short 100 runtime, the picture somehow manages to seem like it’s far longer. Indeed, in this case, “eternal” is something applicable to more than just the wording of its title.