Monday, January 2, 2023

The Eternal Daughter (2022) - A Quiet Gothic Chiller


I love movies. I spend much more time seeing films than I do reading books, but perhaps that is due to my hubby not being a reader. It is a little harder to find some quiet time to read rather than watching a movie. 

My favorite film of 2022 was The Eternal Daughter, which incidentally I only just saw on December 31st!  Written, produced and directed by Joanna Hogg, it is the intimate story of Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind. Both parts are played by the always exceptional Tilda Swinton—which may seem hard to imagine but works very effectively here.

We find the two women and their dog, Louis, traveling by taxi to a large estate house that has been remodeled into a hotel, of which the taxi driver speaks of with some trepidation, claiming he has been spooked by it in the past after seeing an apparition in one of the windows. The house itself has some history with the elder Hart, having stayed there when she was younger and it was owned by a family member.

Upon check-in, the young receptionist seems to have an attitude problem and is quite curt with Julie about the status of the reservation and the room they are to occupy.  After negotiating that situation they settle into their room. We learn that Julie is a filmmaker, and has the intention of writing a film about her mother, and bringing her to this place is part of her thought process in retrieving Rosalind’s fond memories of her time there. 

Soon though, odd things begin to present themselves. Dinners in the dining room are very quiet affairs in which it is just the two women seen eating, noises from the rooms upstairs above theirs keeps Julie awake much of the night, the dog seems very unsettled at times, and each evening the receptionist leaves the hotel when her boyfriend picks her up—making it appear that there may not be any other guests there (or anyone at all for that matter).  Rosalind recounts some painful memories of her past there, making Julie feel incredibly sad and regretful that she has brought her there, even when her mother counters that she has had many joyful memories too. 

Innkeeper Bill makes an appearance one evening as Julie is walking the dark, lonely hallways during a bout of insomnia. He offers some comfort and later, when Louis disappears he helps search for him.  Turns out Louis is back in the room on Rosalind’s bed when Julie returns to the room. Bill and Julie have a chat in the drawing room, discussing both Rosalind and Bill’s wife, with whom he worked many years with at the hotel. Bill is reluctant to move on because he feels close to his wife by staying there. This helps Julie with her feelings of gloom about bringing Rosalind there. 

Unfavorable cell reception takes Julie outside in the evenings to make calls to her husband to let him know how things are going. The almost ever-present fog at the estate, along with a small cemetery seen multiple times give a true gothic feel to the atmosphere. On more than one occasion, Julie sees what appears to be the ghost of a woman, albeit quite subtle and fleeting, in the same window of the house. This is not one of those films that shows you the ghosts in plain view—or even explains whether or not they are even there. In fact the ghosts of the past are in much more prominence but still don’t thoroughly reveal themselves. 

The denouement of the film—if we can assume that the ending is actually a resolution—is like the rest of the film, a quiet but affecting act in which Swinton really does prove her acting chops are no joke. Rosalind’s birthday celebration is a deeply affecting scene, but I won’t spoil anything here. 

It feels important to mention that the music in the film is also very sporadic and scarce. But the recurrent theme is rightfully haunting. Bela Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, BB 114 may sound somewhat familiar, and that would be because one of his other pieces was used in The Shining, which feels so appropriate for the mood they are trying to project here. 

Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for something akin The Conjuring you won’t find it here. The Eternal Daughter is a reserved and hushed piece of filmmaking, not alluding to much. The storyline is extremely sparse and Swinton carries the entire movie on her own, with just a few touches of outside influence to this tightly woven story. It has an art-house feel without being too standoffish or out of touch. I really recommend it to anyone who loves a slow-burn, impeccably acted gothic chiller. 

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