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#TIFF22 Review: The Eternal Daughter (Special Presentations)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

British writer-director Joanna Hogg follows up her one-two punch of The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II with The Eternal Daughter, a simmering, haunting mother-daughter story that is infused with elements of Gothic Horror.

The film stars Tilda Swinton in a captivating dual role as both mother and daughter. Julie is a middle-aged filmmaker who wants to write a screenplay based on her elderly mother’s life, with the two deciding to spend some time together at an old, seemingly deserted manor around her mother’s birthday. The two settle into a mundane daily routine that mainly involves eating, sleeping, and going for walks. But Julie starts to grow frustrated as she struggles to write, trying to get her mother to open up more about her memories of the manor as she prepares her Christmas cards, and we sense a distance between them.

The film opens with them being driven to the manor by a cab driver (August Joshi) who recounts the story of a woman’s ghostly face appearing in one of his wedding photos taken at the place, and this sets the stage for the film. We get the sense that something is off almost immediately. The manor itself is a mysterious space right out of a classic ghost story, filled with a sense of romance as well as dark secrets, where winds howl and strange noises wake them up at night.

The wintery, Christmastime setting adds to the evocative feel of Hogg’s film, as does the gorgeous 35mm cinematography, which heightens both the foggy exteriors and faded interiors. Hogg also makes the artistic choice to mostly frame her characters in separate shots, cutting back and forth between them during dialogue scenes. This provides a fascinating acting exercise for Swinton, who has to play two separate characters while imbuing them with eerily similar qualities. The film also plays with time in some interesting ways, making it feel as if they stuck in a sort of endless loop.

If The Eternal Daughter often moves slowly and doesn’t necessarily have the same immediate impact as either of the Souvenir films, it’s a work that I imagine will linger and grow over time. It’s a moody drama about the power of memory and how certain spaces can retain these memories, that plays out beautifully onscreen.

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