Tilda Swinton, shapeshifting multitasker extraordinare, could also be one of many few residing actors who run the danger of seeming lazy in the event that they play just one character per film. Conniving similar twins, like those she performed in “Hail, Caesar!” and “Okja,” are a specific specialty of hers. Even showier have been the three roles she pulled off within the latest “Suspiria” remake, with the assistance of some spectacular old-age prosthetics. At some point, I think about, Swinton will beat her personal private file from the 1992 science-fiction indie “Teknolust,” during which she performed 4 roles: a scientist and her three cyborg clones.
Till then, there’s “The Eternal Daughter,” a suave and enigmatic haunted-house film during which Swinton performs two ladies — a movie director, Julie, and her mom, Rosalind — spending a December vacation within the distant Welsh countryside. Their vacation spot is a ramshackle outdated lodge that, within the opening moments, looms out of the darkness like Manderley or the Overlook or the setting of a ’50s Hammer horror image. It’s a fabulously evocative setting that opens as much as reveal shadowy halls, vertiginous stairwells and hypnotic patterned wallpaper, a lot of it bathed in a faintly greenish hue that could possibly be the sunshine of an exit signal or one thing extra dreamily sinister. (The manufacturing design is by Stéphane Collonge.)
The English writer-director Joanna Hogg has all the time excelled at establishing a way of place, whether or not it’s the beautiful island getaway in her 2010 drama, “Archipelago,” or the painstaking re-creation of her personal Nineteen Eighties London flat in her excellent latest diptych of “The Souvenir” (2019) and “The Souvenir Part II” (2021). In the event you’ve seen both of these, you’ll acknowledge Swinton’s Rosalind instantly, a number of years older and with extra of a rasp in her voice, although as elegant as ever in gown and method. You’ll additionally know that Julie, together with her invigorating heat and classy darkish bob of hair, is a stand-in for Hogg herself, and that this curious, unsettling story is to a point drawn from actual life. But when “The Eternal Daughter” is a sequel of types to the “Souvenir” films, it’s additionally a extra mysterious type of cinematic memoir.
Foraging as soon as extra in her backyard of reminiscences, Hogg turns up darkish tendrils of suspense and quasi-supernatural portent. She additionally faucets right into a vein of dry comedy that resonates all of the extra throughout the stillness and solemnity of her impeccably composed photographs. The lodge, nonetheless very a lot the ramshackle manor it was earlier than postwar refurbishments, groans and shudders below the burden of its a few years. The air is chilly, the service chillier, the Wi-Fi nonexistent. Upon her arrival, Julie is greeted by a snippy lodge receptionist (a deliciously passive-aggressive Carly-Sophia Davies) who informs her that the double room she booked months in the past isn’t accessible, by no means thoughts that Julie and Rosalind are clearly the lodge’s solely company. Nicely, them and Rosalind’s devoted canine, Louis (performed by one in all Swinton’s personal spaniels, additionally named Louis).
But when nobody else is staying on the property, find out how to clarify the loud banging noises that disturb Julie’s nightly slumber? Or the unseen intruder who at one level opens the door to her room, permitting Louis to flee? Is it only a trick of the wind, or is one thing creepier occurring? Don’t fear an excessive amount of about Louis, by the best way; Hogg could also be having enjoyable with horror conventions, however this isn’t a kind of sadistic workout routines the place the household pet winds up butchered. The spooky gothic environment is doled out with a playful contact. We’re invited to lose ourselves within the mists, the moonlight and the ominous music that accompanies Julie’s walks on the lodge grounds, and to savor the gloom and the grain of Ed Rutherford’s 16-millimeter cinematography.
Swinton’s casting is the film’s most audacious little bit of magic, and in addition its subtlest. Hogg, working in her common intimate, unhurried fashion, shrewdly downplays her personal gimmick. She seldom positions Julie and Rosalind in the identical shot, as an alternative chopping rhythmically between them mid-conversation. It’s a way that minimizes the necessity for physique doubles and digital trickery, and a splendid reminder of how a lot magic a resourceful filmmaker can conjure on a restricted funds.
Helle le Fevre’s regular back-and-forth chopping additionally fits Julie and Rosalind’s conversational rhythms, which smack of what would possibly strike some ears as a quintessentially English reserve. The 2 are well mannered, hesitant and reluctant to step on one another’s sentences. They start most mornings by going over their respective plans: Rosalind will spend the day resting, Julie will head upstairs and attempt to get some writing accomplished, they usually’ll each do their finest to keep away from the bothersome cousin close by who’s desirous to pay them a go to. However their most revealing and transferring conversations unfold within the hushed eating room the place they meet within the night, deciding on entrées from a woefully restricted menu and dancing delicately across the issues at hand.
There’s a thriller on the coronary heart of this mother-daughter relationship, and “The Eternal Daughter,” regardless of its trim operating time, is sluggish to give up its secrets and techniques. Suffice to say it has one thing to do with Rosalind’s final go to to those premises a long time earlier, when she was introduced right here as a baby to shelter throughout the warfare. Her reminiscences of that interval are an unsurprising mixture of the idyllic and the traumatic. They’re additionally a supply of potential creative inspiration for Julie, who has introduced Rosalind again to this exact spot with greater than only a nostalgic vacation in thoughts.
What proper does a storyteller have to attract on another person’s expertise? Hogg didn’t spare Julie that tough query in “The Souvenir,” and right here she once more topics the character — and thus herself — to rigorous important scrutiny. Julie’s personal reservations are obvious within the surreptitious method she switches on her voice recorder when Rosalind begins reminiscing, and in addition within the guilt she feels at any time when her delicate probing of her mom’s reminiscences strikes a nerve. One solution to interpret the film’s style trappings — the unusual noises, the creeping unease, the pervasive loneliness, the often-indeterminate time of day, the intelligent use of mirrors to splinter Julie’s personal picture — is as a manifestation of that guilt. Julie is dropping herself in an moral fog in addition to a literal one.
All this may need made “The Eternal Daughter” play like a doubtful train in self-doubt, an apologia for its personal existence. However the film is far more than that. Hogg has long-established a deeply transferring tribute to her mom, one which hums with wit and glows with affection. And in Swinton’s exquisitely delineated performances, she has hit on one thing much more profound than a mere stunt. Swinton’s two faces counsel the unusual, often-uncomfortable transference of id that may occur over time between moms and daughters. In addition they give rise to the concept that to enter into another person’s expertise is, on some degree, to change into them, to partake of their flesh and spirit.
That is private filmmaking as parlor trick, as mesmerizing inventive séance. As such, it’s designed to make you query your grip on actuality, simply as Julie questions hers. Hogg delights in main us up the backyard path, by no means extra actually than when a benevolent groundskeeper (Joseph Mydell) emerges one evening to help Julie, and maybe Rosalind too. On the identical time, the director has extra in thoughts than an elaborate tease, and as soon as the mist clears, because it lastly does, the sample it reveals has a good looking, shattering readability.
What appeared to be one type of story all of the sudden reshapes itself, earlier than our eyes, into one other. And the air of emotional guardedness reveals, looking back, the deep, anguished feeling that has been there all alongside. “The Eternal Daughter” is haunting, as all the very best ghost tales are. One of the best love tales too.
‘The Eternal Daughter’
Rated: PG-13, for some drug materials
Working time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Enjoying: Begins Dec. 2 at Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles