I am a sucker when it comes to some people’s bodies of work and usually, when I’m made aware they’re in something that even vaguely catches my eye, I will watch it without any further knowledge as to what the movie is actually about. Tilda Swinton is one of those very few people who, if she’s present in the film, I know at a bare minimum she’s going to give it her all and if nothing else, watching her do something with possibly nothing or something incredible is always a treat. With that being said though, maybe reading a little further into the plot synopsis of one of her latest would’ve been beneficial as I could’ve set expectations for The Eternal Daughter, directed by Joanna Hogg, in which she dubs this as a third part of her personal trilogy but also as a standalone film.
Before we dive right on in into The Eternal Daughter though, I want to note that there are a lot of similarities in terms of the minimalist story telling and performance here between Eternal Daughter and David Lowrey’s A Ghost Story. I find this is important to say because I know I am in the very unpopular camp that absolutely loathes and nearly despises A Ghost Story, and since I see a lot of correlation between the two films, my reaction is nearly the same, but not as visceral, to The Eternal Daughter, but, nevertheless, the correlations are there and these stories just lack the depth I wish they would have.
The film focuses on a daughter and her elderly mother, both played masterfully by Tilda Swinton in the forms of Julie and Rosalind Hart, as they return to their former family home that has been converted to a ghastly hotel that is packed with mystery and secrets. While it is never made completely clear if they are, in fact, the only people who are residing at this hotel on this return to their former lives, it appears they are, which makes their circumstances that much more frightening and unnerving. Their first interaction with the receptionist played by Carly-Sophia Davies makes it seem as there are other guests at the hotel, but without ever seeing any other guests, the rudeness and near failure to get them situated immediately becomes that more damning and concerning. As the movie progresses, Julie continues to hear and witness things that should be deemed impossible as they are the only ones residing at this hotel, but sounds and occurrences continue to creep their way in to Julie’s ears and she is aware that they might not be alone after all.
As things continue to go awry throughout The Eternal Daughter, the real tension comes between Julie and Rosalind as their relationship is clearly fractured. It examines their relationship subtly enough that it doesn’t take away from the ghostly occurrences the movie continues to try and perpetuate. As well, there are some creative choices (which will not be spoiled) that take the concept of time and throw it almost completely out the window and makes the audience try and figure if this adventure Julie is on with her mother is in fact real or if the hotel is real and, moreover, if anything is real.
What works in The Eternal Daughter is, of course, Tilda Swinton. She has become such a master of her craft that she can take on a role in the MCU and bring a new depth and nuance to it with very strict restraints and a presumed lack of creative freedom, as well as taking roles like this where she does double duty and, presumably, has more freedom to express herself and in how she portrays characters. It is clear when she has the freedom to truly lose herself in a role or a character, and Tilda is allowed to breathe with Joanna Hogg and truly make both characters her own. The only downfall is that what she gets to do with these characters isn’t entirely that interesting. It feels like the audience is a fly on the wall that is missing some context. As this film feels incredibly personal, it lacks that further depth and mesmerizing facet that self-contained stories can provide, and maybe watching both the original and sequel of The Souvenir would have provided clear insight into the world of The Eternal Daughter.
In theaters on December 2nd, 2022.
For more information, head to the official A24 The Eternal Daughter webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.