Joanna Hogg is a singular type of director, inhabiting that world of British kitchen sink drama along with a sense of the more austere, her take on genre is not like anyone else’s so the prospect of her giving us a ghost story is one that you might not entirely see coming.
The Eternal Daughter follows mother and daughter Rosalind and Julie. Julie, a filmmaker, has taken her ageing mother Rosalind to a hotel for her birthday, one that in her youth Rosalind lived in, and slowly Julie comes to believe she’s being haunted.
Hogg’s film is not a run-of-the-mill haunted house story, this is a film about mood and atmosphere over things going bump in the night. At times the film’s pacing can be a little tiresome, , as magnetic a screen presence as she is there’s only so much of Swinton milling about with her dog you can take before you want something to happen.
Despite most often sharing the screen with herself in old lady make-up, Swinton never gives off the feeling that she’s on her own, she inhabits both roles well enough that they feel like two different people and both with their own internal life. This is aided by some interestingly toe-curling scenes of Swinton being bristly with the young lady at the desk of the Hotel – Carly-Sophia Davies.
What Hogg understands is that all good ghost stories aren’t really about life after death but about regret or guilt. The guilt we hold within ourselves, be it things we did or didn’t do, the things we wished we’d said when someone was around or not. That’s the unsettling feeling that inhabits the film and permeates through the runtime. There’s a sense that Hogg is asking us to think about the things we have or haven’t said to a treasured loved one and to consider what we will feel when they are gone.
Your threshold for slow films that really rely on atmosphere over much else will vary, and this is a film destined to find a small but dedicated crowd of people who revisit it around the spooky season to think on their own lives, it’s not a crowd pleasing film and the reality is – why would you want a crowd pleasing Joanna Hogg film? Instead this is a slightly too long meditation on grief and regret and once again shows us that when it comes to screen acting few rival Tilda Swinton