A couple years ago, somewhat lost in the shuffle as the entertainment industry reorganized itself around digital releasing during the first months of the pandemic, Sean Durkin‘s film The Nest offered a curious inflection on the horror film. The story of a deteriorating family took place in a cavernous English country mansion rich in menacing atmosphere, like a haunted house picture in which the ghosts are strictly metaphorical, the regrets of the past every bit as ominous as any phantom.
It was a clever and unsettling tack, its efficacy now re-proven by Johanna Hogg‘s latest film The Eternal Daughter, which likewise places a fraught familial drama in a handsome manor coursing with an ambient malevolent energy bordering on the supernatural. In the first trailer released today, distributor A24 sells it as a sort of non-horror movie, all eerie vibes with none of the messy bloodletting.
Though the grabbier focal point may be Tilda Swinton‘s double performance in the lead role, occupying almost the entirety of a film peopled by a scant number of additional characters. She plays the Julie character introduced as a Hogg stand-in for her Souvenir diptych of quasi-memoir films, now an adult woman with a career in place, as well as Julie’s fussy aging mother Rosalind. During what’s supposed to be a leisure outing to this beautiful locale, resentments and unfulfilled hopes bubble to the surface like so many specters, adding a Vertigo-ish air (reinforced by all the radioactive-looking green light) to their excavation of old feelings.
In her first-look review from the world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, our critic on the scene Catherine Bray was impressed with Hogg’s resourceful methods, writing: “The ability to effectively trap digital ghosts in our devices, as part of a longing to preserve some sense of connection, sits at the foremost frontier of modern anxieties about death and what we leave behind, while the double casting of Swinton underlines the fact that having children used to be the only way that we could leave behind partial copies of ourselves. There are as many potential ways to approach a parent-child relationship onscreen as there are parent-child relationships on the planet, but Hogg may have just discovered a new one.”
Hogg spent her two previous films in a state of unsparing introspection, breaking down the naïveté and privilege enjoyed by her younger self, but the director has opened her inquiries up with her latest work, focused now on how she fits into a longer continuum of yearning that stretches through generations. For viewers in the States this December, it’s the perfect wintertime watch, cozy in its luxe-holiday setting and frosty in its emotional outlay.
The Eternal Daughter comes to cinemas in the US on 2 December. A date for the UK has yet to be set.
Published 1 Nov 2022
The writer/director and star of The Souvenir discuss diaries, memories and the life-changing qualities of making art.
By Will Webb
Revisiting the acclaimed British writer/director’s first three features, Unrelated, Archipelago and Exhibition.