Not even a pandemic could stop the momentum of Joanna Hogg, the British filmmaker who became an arthouse favourite with The Souvenir and its sequel. Produced by Martin Scorsese, a self-proclaimed fan of Hogg, The Eternal Daughter was filmed in secret during Lockdown, but any fears of rule-breaking might be allayed by the fact that the main characters are the same person.
Tilda Swinton plays Julie, a middle-aged filmmaker who brings her mother Rosalind (also Swinton) to a remote hotel that used to be her childhood home. Hoping to find inspiration for a new film, Julie unearths secrets which make her question the past and fear for the future.
Foreboding from the very beginning, Hogg uses a number of clever tricks to keep the viewer on edge. From the prickly and unhelpful hotel receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies) to the fog that wraps around the grounds, the tension builds as the mystery heightens. Hogg’s style of dialogue, with overlapping sentences and awkward confrontations, creates anxiety from very minimal resources.
The greatest compliment that can be paid to Swinton is that it’s very easy to forget there aren’t two people in most of these scenes. As Julie she is quietly troubled, fretting over every last detail, while as Rosalind she has a graceful weariness of someone who is at peace with their past. Given Swinton is closer in years to Rosalind’s age than Julie’s, it’s testament to her versatility that she can deliver two fully realised performances at the same time.
The twist may seem inevitable by the time it comes around, but The Eternal Daughter is a skilfully made ghost story which highlights a filmmaker always willing to test herself.