December 4, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Joanna Hogg
Culture Representation: Taking place in Wales, the dramatic film “The Eternal Daughter” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person and one person of South Asian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A screenwriter, who has writer’s block, checks into an isolated hotel with her mother, where memories and family secrets affect their stay at the hotel.
Culture Audience: “The Eternal Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tilda Swinton, filmmaker Joanna Hogg and movies with plots that blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
Tilda Swinton is in yet another artsy film that has quirky and neurotic characters. “The Eternal Daughter” takes place at a mysterious hotel. You’re either going to be fully on board with this type of movie, or you’re not. “The Eternal Daughter” made the rounds at several film festivals in 2022, including the Venice International Film Festival (where the movie had its world premiere), the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.
Written and directed by Joanna Hogg, “The Eternal Daughter” has a story enigma that’s very easy to solve. It’s the type of movie where viewers should be up for a ride where a lot of weird things happen. You can figure out early on what’s the root of the problem, and then just watch as Swinton delivers a compelling performance. Swinton has two roles in “The Eternal Daughter,” which is an automatic clue that can answer many questions put forth in the movie.
In “The Eternal Daughter” Swinton has the dual roles of screenwriter Julie Hart and Julie’s elderly mother Rosalind Hart. Julie is working on a movie about herself and her mother. They check into a stately old Moel Famau. hotel, which is a converted country mansion in Wales. (“The Eternal Daughter” was actually filmed at Souton Hall, a 15-bedroom Georgian estate, built in 1714, in Wales.) The purpose of this mother-daughter trip is so Julie and Rosalind can talk about Rosalind’s memories that Julie might use in her screenplay.
The atmosphere is ominous and tense from the moment that Julie and Rosalind arrive at the hotel on a very foggy night. Rosalind’s spaniel dog Louis is also with them. (The dog belongs to Swinton in real life.) The Julie character is supposed to be a version of “The Eternal Daughter” writer/director Hogg. Julie is the same character who was portrayed in her early 20s in Hogg’s 2019 film “The Souvenir” and 2021 film “The Souvenir Part II,” which both had Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in the starring role of young-adult Julie.
The hotel receptionist (played by Carly-Sophia Davies), who doesn’t have a name in “The Eternal Daughter,” tells Julie (who made the hotel reservation) that they have no record of her reservation, and the hotel is already booked up. Julie is understandably upset, and there’s some haggling back and forth before the receptionist finds a room for Julie and Rosalind. As far as Julie is concerned, this trip has gotten off to a very bad start.
The rest of “Eternal Daughter” involves a series of unnerving incidents and encounters that alarm and confuse Julie. At this very depressing hotel that doesn’t seem to know the meaning of well-lit rooms, Rosalind immediately notices she hasn’t seen any other hotel guests. Where are the other guests?
When Julie and Rosalind dine in the hotel’s small restaurant, the hotel receptionist is also their server at the restaurant. It’s another indication that this hotel isn’t as busy as the receptionist wants to say that it is. Why did the receptionist say that the hotel was booked up, when it obviously is not? The only other employee who’s seen at the hotel is a friendly groundskeeper/maintenance worker (played by Joseph Mydell), who also doesn’t have a name in the movie.
During the night, Julie’s sleep is interrupted by the sound of loud banging. When she tells the hotel receptionist about it, she’s assured that this matter will be resolved. But the banging continues. Is this a haunted hotel? If you’re thinking that “The Eternal Daughter” is Hogg’s version of “The Shining,” it’s not.
It’s enough to say that “The Eternal Daughter” is not a horror movie, so viewers should not watch “The Eternal Daughter” with expectations that it will be a scary film. “The Eternal Daughter” is a psychological drama that keeps viewers guessing about what might be real and what might be someone’s imagination. And whose reality is the truth?
“The Eternal Daughter” is sometimes bogged down by some very mundane conversations that Julie and Rosalind have about their family. These discussions are meant to make an increasingly agitated Julie feel a sense of normalcy in this hotel that she thinks is not normal at all. Julie is also feeling a lot of anxiety because she has writer’s block.
People who are looking for an elaborate mystery or non-stop suspense might be disappointed in “The Eternal Daughter.” The movie is really a showcase for how Swinton can convincingly play these two characters who have very different personalities. Julie is restless and on edge, while Rosalind is calmer and more passive. “The Eternal Daughter” is ultimately an intriguing statement on how family memories can shape people’s lives and how important it is to value the people who can share these memories.
A24 released “The Eternal Daughter” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 2, 2022.