A different kind of ghost story.
Tilda Swinton has a dual role as a mother and daughter in “The Eternal Daughter,” her latest collaboration with writer/director Joanna Hogg. Although, I’m going to have to assume it was made on the same low budget of “The Souvenir” movies, because they are not always shown together in the same image, other than a few shots. It’s not like Mike Myers as Austin Powers and Dr. Evil or Eddie Murphy as the Nutty Professor and the Klumps. Their images tend to switch back and forth.
Even if they did have the money for the effects, Swinton delivers some fine work in both roles. The daughter Julie is a struggling filmmaker, who begins to suspect something suspicious in the hotel they’re staying at, while the mother Rosalind is an elderly woman recalling memories at this very same place, which used to be her family home. This place could be haunted, maybe because of something from her mother’s past.
“The Eternal Daughter” looks like a ghost film, especially when its hallways feature green lights, when it’s set in a foggy environment, and when Julie sees a ghostly figure in the window. Its secrets and chilling noises makes it seem like a ghost film. It is a ghost film, but I assure you: it’s not a horror film. Not all ghost movies are horror films. They can also be about character studies and what the human mind can process.
Julie feels bad for bringing her mother here when she hears some sad stories, but Rosalind assures her: “You have to roll with the punches.” And she’s has yet to write a script about her and her mother, because she now doesn’t feel it’s right. She just wants her mother’s happiness.
On the side, there’s the friendly groundkeeper Bill (Jospeh Mydell). And coincidentally, William was her late father’s name. Bill’s recently departed wife used to worked in this very same hotel, too, and he has a certain connection to her that keeps him working here. Could he be a spirit or could be still be alive?
I’d be lying if I told you I understood everything going on in the story. Certain ghost movies are a bit more complex than you’re used to, but the movie still presents the genre with a low key and emotional aspect. I love how Hogg and Swinton both have the kind of chemistry that helped make “The Souvenir” movies so profound, and here, Hogg guides Swinton in the dual roles memorably. Their dialogue is complex and truthful, and whether or not their characters are in the same picture, they still draw you into their lives.
And I also liked Swinton’s chemistry with Mydell, who offers her some interesting things about life at the hotel, and how he learns to overcome whatever obstacles came into his life. His side sounds predictable, but it’s far from that in every way.
“The Eternal Daughter” is a patient film that allows us to digest what the story unfolds, and it uses a delicate ambiance to keep the tone in check. It doesn’t succumb to the most obvious approaches, but rather uses the leading lady to show both sides of the film’s perspectives. I don’t just mean the double roles, but also how her stay at the hotel affects her work and idea for a screenplay. An interesting case of writer’s block, no less.
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