Joanna Hogg’s latest film “The Eternal Daughter” feels like the logical next step from her two previous films “The Souvenir” (2019) and “The Souvenir Part II” (2021). In the coming-of-age tale of those two films, their young heroine’s relationship with her mother always hovers around the fringe of the main narrative, and now Hogg attempts to examine one interesting mother and daughter relationship within a small, isolated background.
At the beginning, the movie shows the arrival of its two main characters at a big hotel located in the middle of some remote forest area in one very foggy evening. They are Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind, and they instantly draw our attention from their first scene because both of whom are played by Tilda Swinton, who incidentally played the mother character in “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”. Considering that the first names of the heroine and her mother in these two films are also Julie and Rosalind, you may wonder whether “The Eternal Daughter” is a sort of spiritual sequel to these two films, but the movie does not give much information about its two main characters, except that Julie brings her mother to the hotel because it may make her mother feel a little more comfortable as one of those good places in her past.
However, things do not look that good when they subsequently enter the hotel along with Rosalind’s pet dog. For example, there is some reservation problem Julie has to deal with, although there will not be any other guest in the hotel besides Julie and her mother during next several days. In addition, the receptionist, who also serves as the sole waitress of the hotel restaurant, is not particularly kind to them, and she soon leaves without much care as soon as her working time is over.
As a result, Julie and Rosalind find themselves mostly alone by themselves in the hotel during their first day at the hotel, which looks fairly cozy but rather spooky like, yes, that insidious hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). With its rather dim interior lighting and the constantly foggy surrounding area, the hotel often feels like a sort of middle point between life and death, and now that reminds me of the similar main background of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sublime fantasy drama film “After Life” (1998), which is about the souls of deal people trying to prepare for whatever is waiting beyond their past lives.
While next several days slowly pass by, we get to know a bit more about Julie and Rosalind. They are usually fine together, and they clearly care a lot about each other, but we cannot help but feel some distance between them. Julie, who is incidentally a filmmaker just like the heroine of “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”, is eager to know more about her mother, and it later turns out that she is considering making a movie based on her relationship with her mother, but her mother does not talk that much about her life while simply enjoying the comfortable environment of the hotel.
Naturally getting frustrated with her mother’s rather elusive attitude, Julie often wanders around here and there in the hotel, and she soon gets unnerved by the barren ambience of the hotel. When she goes out along with her mother’s pet dog for one evening, she sees something odd behind one of the windows on the first floor of the hotel, and that is just one of several strange experiences she is going to have along the story.
Now the movie feels like your average gothic horror movie, but the movie keeps focusing on the human drama revolving around Julie and her mother. At one point, she is surprised by the sudden appearance of one old employee, and this old employee generously gives some advice on how she can understand and accept her mother more. As the one of a very few performers appearing around Swinton in the film, Joseph Mydell, a veteran American actor who has been known for his frequent collaborations with the Royal Shakespeare Company, effortlessly draws our attention during this scene, and we later see how his character’s advice comes to help Julie later in the story.
Everything in the story eventually culminates to the long dinner conversation between Julie and Rosalind. As they indirectly pull and push each other over one trivial matter, we come to sense more of the gap between them, and then there comes an unexpected moment which shows more about the emotional undercurrents between them. Swinton, who is no stranger to dual performance as shown from Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” (2017) and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” (2018), is simply superb as skillfully switching back and forth between her two different characters, and her wonderful acting constantly holds the movie even when it baffles and confounds us a lot.
On the whole, “The Eternal Daughter” is another interesting work from Hogg. In my humble opinion, it does not surpass the considerable achievement level of “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”, and I wish Hogg polished the story and characters a bit more, but the movie still satisfies me thanks to its good mood and another terrific performance from Swinton. As your typical arthouse film, it surely requires some patience from you at first, but I assure you that it will leave you some indelible impression in the end, and you will have more expectation on whatever will come next from Hogg.