Sharing its DNA with writer/director Joanna Hogg’s previous two autobiographical films – The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II – The Eternal Daughter is a stab at a ghost story for the creator that ultimately is more interested in a mother-daughter relationship than providing any obvious scares. Tilda Swinton takes a dual role, playing both daughter Julie and, via makeup and grey hair, her mother Ros. They find themselves at a creepy, gothic Welsh countryside hotel (in fact Soughton Hall in Flintshire), where Swinton meets Carly-Sophia Davies’ rude, bluntly funny receptionist as she tries to orchestrate the right room for her and her mother.
Julie is a filmmaker trying to write a new script, whilst also interviewing her mother surreptitiously and gathering information about her. She cannot focus, however, disturbed at night by creaks, flute-playing and the green light that peppers the fog enshrouded hotel. The film is also shrouded in meta-language, autobiography and reality blurring as Hogg has done previously. Things may go bump in the night, but ultimately the drama here is between mother and daughter, who for all their upper-middle class banter do not really know each other: Julie quests for understanding while Ros withholds, even remaining tight-lipped about the place they are visiting – her daughter had hoped it would be a lovely jaunt down memory lane for mum.
The hotel seems abandoned, save for Davies’ snarky receptionist and a kindly nightwatchman (Joseph Mydell) nurturing his own grief. The film itself often seems out of time, Hogg inducing a dreamlike quality throughout. Swinton is never cheated in the same shot as her other character, an artifice adding to the sense of dislocation: The Eternal Daughter is shot like a horror film, with reveals in mirrors, staircases on an angle, dark and misty gardens and glimpsed people in shadowy windows.
It remains engaging throughout, yet like the two Souvenir films, will frustrate many with its languid pacing and apparent self-indulgence. Swinton is good as ever and Welsh actor Davies provides welcome – and recognisable – short shrift customer care with an edge of class friction. Ultimately, however, The Eternal Daughter feels handsome but thin, tricksy though obviously heartfelt.
Dir: Joanna Hogg (12A, 96 mins)
The Eternal Daughter is released in cinemas on Fri 24 Nov
words KEIRON SELF