TIFF 2022: The Eternal Daughter, by David Bax
In Joanna Hogg‘s previous feature, the two-part The Souvenir, Tilda Swinton played mother to her real life daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne. Now, with The Eternal Daughter, she’s reunited with Hogg to play both roles, a middle-aged film director named Julie and her elderly mother Rosalind. Both performances are impeccable as always but it’s as Rosalind–whose daughter has taken her to a former family estate where Rosalind spent time as a girl and which is now a dusty hotel in order to revisit memories and ghosts, quite possibly literal ones, from the past–that Swinton proves most heartbreaking.
Ghost stories like The Eternal Daughter are often set in old places and for good reason. It’s not just that a house of this age is necessarily going to creak and groan, especially at night (and this one does more than its fair share). It’s that any place that’s been around long enough will necessarily become haunted to those who have known it because the past has had time to seep permanently into the walls and floorboards.
Julie is certainly not unaware that something seems to be lurking in the house and on the grounds. She suspects enough to spend her time investigating strange noises in the night and communing with the friendly caretaker (Joseph Mydell) about the building’s history. But it’s Rosalind who seems able to–if not commune with–at least witness the ghosts directly, sort of like little Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense.
Hogg and cinematographer Ed Rutherford (reuniting after having collaborated on 2013’s Exhibition and 2010’s Archipelago) shoot The Eternal Daughter in a classical, elegant manner that pays homage to the tradition of British haunted house movies. Simple but powerful contrasts between light and shadow recall Robert Wise‘s The Haunting. And a split diopter shot could be a reference to Jack Clayton‘s The Innocents (though that film didn’t actually a use split diopter to achieve simultaneous shallow and deep focus). There is also a judicious use of zooms. If that’s a reference, I didn’t catch it but they’re employed to satisfyingly creepy effect nonetheless.
Going back to The Souvenir, The Eternal Daughter has at least one welcome thing in common with those films. Particularly in regard to the fantastic turn by Carly-Sophia Davies (in what appears to be her feature film debut) as the testy, exasperated hotel receptionist, the movie is often far more hilarious than one might expect, given the subject matter.