The Eternal Daughter, is a fine modern gothic, sensitive and spare and carried flawlessly by Tilda Swinton in the dual roles of the titular daughter and her mother. Their (her?) delicate interactions, done without the trick of a split screen, let the audience into the awkward, intimate relationship between the two characters. As close as they are, they still struggle to cross the distance between their personal experiences.
After her father’s death, Julie wants to make a film about her mother’s life, and brings her to a hotel that was once an estate belonging to their family. But the project seems to be an uphill battle against a cascade of inconveniences and miscommunications at the hotel, and Julie’s overprotectiveness and deference toward her aged mother.
It is uncomfortable and absorbing to watch such a familiar dynamic from so close.
The cast is tiny and precise. Even the supporting characters are fully realized in their brief scenes.
Tilda Swinton stars as both Julie and Rosalind Hart, the daughter and mother whose intertwined lives are the film’s whole focus.
Joseph Mydell is Bill, the groundskeeper and one of only two other people we see, who also has a history with the house
Carly-Sophia Davies is the receptionist and antagonist, a young woman who seems uninterested in her job, or her guests.
The Eternal Daughter uses grief as it’s source of fear and unease. The story begins with a ghostly anecdote, and Julie seems to be waiting for that ghost to appear throughout the film as she begins teasing out the long-ago traumas her mother lived through in this house.
The film creates an overwhelming sense of isolation with rain, unlit roads, and a huge, dark edifice. Julie and her mother seem to be the only guests in the hotel, but there are creaks and knocks in the empty rooms. Voices echo. Cell phone reception is fickle. Even an omnipresent plastic bag full of cards, papers, and address books gives an impression of being always misplaced.
There is a pervasive feeling of something there but just out of reach. I’m not sure Julie wants to find it.
The Eternal Daughter keeps its uncertainty through the very end, when the reality of Julie and her mother’s experiences still remain in question. The haunting here is oblique. What is imagined, and what actually happened? We are left to decide for ourselves.