This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival
Director Joanna Hogg’s elegant, haunting “The Eternal Daughter” is a film that explores memory and past regret as it relates to parental relationships. Hogg’s film is reserved, restrained, and her directorial style is an acquired taste. But thanks to a moving performance from Tilda Swinton (in dual roles), thoughtful audiences will appreciate the task of dissecting the intense themes that lie below the surface.
An artist and her elderly mother (both roles played by Swinton) return to a former family manor, which is now a purportedly haunted hotel with a mysterious past. There’s a ghost who peeks out a window from time to time, at least according to local legend. While at the hotel, mother and daughter must confront family secrets and deal with remorse about the years that have gone before.
Relying on atmosphere to carry the story, the film would greatly benefit from a richer narrative. It’s very slow moving, and there’s not enough background detail to fill the run time. Hogg leans on traditional spooky elements to fill long pauses, with atmospheric touches (like heavy fog, howling wind, creaky doors, flickering lights, and strange noises) as a substitution for compelling content. What’s interesting is that none of this matters in the end, as the film’s overall mood keeps it engaging.
It’s frustrating that many of the mysteries go unsolved or even unspoken, as the woman suffers in a detached, tormented anguish. The days, hours, and minutes spent at the empty hotel tick by slowly as Hogg plays with time. The past is haunting, yet it feels like the present as time passes in the most routine fashion. The mother and daughter’s day-to-day regimen remains the same, although it doesn’t take long for viewers to begin to question the particulars of the trip and relationship.
In order to enjoy “The Eternal Daughter,” it’s advised that you free yourself from all logic. The final reveal doesn’t make much sense, and it’s certainly not air tight within the confines of the film’s structure. But there’s something so haunting and emotionally distressing about the overall tone of the film, and the understated performances from Swinton, that makes it a memorable work of art.
By: Louisa Moore