NYFF 60 Review: The Eternal Daughter

Year: 2022
Runtime:  96 minutes
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Carly Sophia-Davies, Joseph Mydell, Alfie Sankey-Green

By Tom Moore

Writer/director Joanna Hogg has shown herself to be a masterful and personal storyteller with both “Souvenir” films and now reunites with Tilda Swinton for a third feature, “The Eternal Daughter,” that acts as a spiritual successor to “The Souvenir” movies in more ways than one.

The film sees Swinton play both middle-aged filmmaker Julie and her mother Rosalind as they head to their former family home, now a vacant and secluded hotel, for a special weekend that sees them unearth some buried secrets that still haunt them. The film does struggle early on to get its hooks into viewers with its story because of the slow-burn pacing and its choice to completely shroud itself in mystery to the point where you’re left pretty unsure as to why they really came to the hotel. However, the film’s aesthetics and Hogg’s comedy are easily able to get viewers engaged through the first act.

It can’t be understated that visually; “The Eternal Daughter” is a beautifully constructed masterpiece of noir-mystery atmosphere. Its central location is just a marvel with its isolation and the dark narrow hallways making it have a good mystery atmosphere with some dashes of horror, giving it almost a life of its own.

Ed Rutherford’s cinematography adds to the atmosphere excellently with the use of fog effects and the foreboding surrounding forest giving the film a palpable presence of suspense that’s felt every time Julie walks outside at night. There’s truly this haunting presence felt throughout, and the film’s music gives it the perfect splashes of noir that evoke the vibes of Albert Hitchcock thrillers like “Rebecca”(1940). If “The Eternal Daughter” was in black and white, it would be even more of a fantastic homage to Hitchcock and noirs of the 50s. Even with color though, “The Eternal Daughter” can instill chills and thrills simply through its setting.

Even amongst the dark and looming environment, Hogg’s style of comedy breaks through excellently to make the introductory parts of the first act incredibly funny. The comedic war between Julie and the hotel concierge (Carly Sophia-Davies) never stops being funny with how they step on each other’s toes and the snarky dialogue they have manages to always get a laugh. Sophia-Davies’ performance screams breakout for the hilarious impression she makes and the mother/daughter chemistry between Julie and Rosalind is delightfully funny at times because Swinton is such a treat in this dual role performance.

Hogg and Swinton are quickly becoming quite the power duo as Swinton effortlessly captivates through Hogg’s style of comedy and storytelling. Swinton excellently makes Julie and Rosalind stand as their own characters and makes each one’s personality shine in their own distinctive ways. Julie’s efforts to mend her relationship with her mother as she’s working on a new film about their relationship gives her a subtly emotional story and makes every scene with her and Rosalind have some lingering depth. As for Rosalind, Swinton brings some great elderly charm that’ll leave a smile on your face and keep you hooked on the idea that she’s thinking something she’s not saying. A dual role like this isn’t an easy thing to take on, but Swinton is masterful in carrying “The Eternal Daughter” on her shoulders and luckily, she gets some great help from Hogg’s direction and storytelling.

Along with evoking the aesthetics and styles of 50s noir mysteries, Hogg utilizes some old filmmaking styles as well to further make “The Eternal Daughter” an homage to genre classics. The way she captures Julie and Rosalind in mostly separate shots and lets the environment add more mystery to the experience really makes the film hit its mystery, noir, and even horror beats incredibly well. “The Eternal Daughter” is more than just an homage though as Hogg makes it her own through the haunting ghost story that unfolds and how she carries over themes from “The Souvenir” to make it sort of a spiritual follow-up.

In somewhat of a similar vein to “The Souvenir: Part II”(2021), “The Eternal Daughter” is a meta look at a filmmaker’s struggling to deal with her personal ghosts while working on her craft. As Julie and Rosalind stay at the hotel, their issues and family past start to come out in emotional ways that lead to reckoning and you’re constantly curious about Julie’s intentions because of how her desires to use their story for film come off a little morally questionable. Their story only becomes more interesting with time and takes new form as a late reveal really gives the film’s title and Julie and Rosalind’s current dynamic a more compelling meaning. It’s one of those turns in a story that instantly makes you think differently about everything leading up to it and has a delightfully meta and surprisingly emotional ending that leaves an impact.

Although the film’s long slow-burn can make for a sluggish intro and be a little too steeped in mystery, Hogg’s craft has never been stronger with “The Eternal Daughter” as she creates a deeply compelling atmosphere that plays as an homage to noir mysteries and delivers a unique evolution of her storytelling from “The Souvenir” films led by Swinton delivering not one, but two easily compelling performances.

4-stars

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