Joanna Hogg examined her young adult life with her two Souvenir films. She now turns her personal filmmaking style towards her mother with the sort-of ghost story The Eternal Daughter. Shot in secret during the pandemic, the film features Tilda Swinton both playing Hogg's mother and grandmother in a stunning dual role, or so it would seem. This ode to mothers is eventually very moving but the film does require patience through its restrained tone and deliberate pacing.
The film is best summed up as a series of movements between elderly mother Rosalind and her middle-aged filmmaking daughter Julie. They are staying at the former childhood home of Rosalind which is now a hotel in the rural countryside. The only person they regularly see there is the surly receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies). The place has no other guests, fog creeps around every window and things go bump in the night although the focus is never on scares. It instead is focused on the subtle dynamics of these two women. One of the film's best performances comes in the form of Louis, Rosalind's spaniel. The presence of the dog who senses things or ghosts adds to the eerie atmosphere here.
Those familiar with Hogg's work will notice that Rosalind and Julie are character names of the mother/daughter pair in The Souvenir. Hence it is unclear if this is an extension of those films later in the characters' lives or just part of Hogg's unique autobiographical approach. The film shares many themes with her previous two films.
The Eternal Daughter builds tension as Julie tries to get details of her childhood from her mother, recording them in secret to help fuel the screenplay she is trying to write. The harsh truths of the past are mirrored by the creepy atmosphere. The memories tapped into here are not filled with nostalgia but pain.
It is Tilda Swinton that carries the film through its slow parts. It is a thrill to see her create two distinct characters and then perform off of herself. She takes great care with each performance and it pays off in the emotional final moments. This may not be Hogg's best work but it is still fascinating.