Review: An unforgettable ghost story in ‘The Eternal Girl’

Joanna Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter,” a ghost story in which memory manifests, is visited, intruded, and eventually polished, casts a gentle and mournful spell.

The film begins captivatingly, with mist filtering through barren tree branches and a white taxi winding down a country road. The gothic mood immediately feels intimately familiar. Set in a totally creaky country mansion, “The Eternal Daughter” works very deliberately within a genre tradition, but from a very personal angle.

“The Eternal Daughter,” which A24 released in theaters and on demand on Friday, is a kind of coda of Hogg’s last two films. The British filmmaker most recently produced “The Souvenir” in two parts, which painstakingly recreates his own memories from his days as a film student and culminates beautifully with his confident self-realization as a director.

In “The Souvenir,” Honor Swinton Byrne played Julie, Hogg’s fictional surrogate young filmmaker, and Tilda Swinton (Byrne’s real-life mother) played her mother. In “The Eternal Daughter,” Julie is now a middle-aged, successful filmmaker played by Swinton. She takes her mother Rosaline (who also plays Swinton) on vacation to a Welsh inn where Rosaline took refuge during World War II. In this expanded cinematic universe – Hoggverse? – Even one of the dogs in “The Souvenir,” the Springer Spaniel, Louis and Swinton’s real-life pet, reprises his role.

But the many dilemmas and real-world mirrors reflected through “The Eternal Girl” are part of its uncanny mystery. Not only is Rosaline something imaginary, whose interactions are limited to conversations with her daughter, the old inn they’re staying at is also oddly empty and not very welcoming. When they arrive, the stern front desk manager (Carly-Sophia Davies) cannot find their reservation and reluctantly gives them a second-floor room, despite a wall full of keys behind her.

Julie is trying to spend some time with her mother in this empty mansion and write something. In another labyrinthine remote, it doesn’t go as bad as it went for Jack Torrance from “The Shining.” But things are slow, the shutters slamming, her sleep interrupted, and some of the repercussions the trip evokes in Rosaline aren’t as warm as Julie expected. She says she’s here, learning that her brother died in the war, she says. Ashamed that her travels have deepened her mother’s pain, Julie apologizes profusely.

His commute is mostly limited to drinking tea in bed, reading a book, and having dinner. But everywhere there are echoes of something elusive. As dense as the unspeakable mist. Rosaline carries with her a bag of “things to do”, a clue to some unfinished business. Occasionally, the unstable tension breaks. Unable to see any hotel staff next to the front desk manager, Julie encounters a kind man who is more welcoming at night (sweetly played by Joseph Mydell). She also shares her memories of her late husband who worked there. The past, which was initially reluctant to emerge, becomes more and more the present.

“That’s what rooms do,” Rosaline says. “They hide these stories.”

This was part of the belief in “Memory” that recreates Hogg’s old apartment in great detail. Like these films, “The Eternal Girl” is reflexive in its construction – a memoir about remembering. It’s also a chance to once again admire Swinton’s capacity to take on one or more roles. He keeps each character so busy that you have to remind yourself that he plays both. If anything, I wish his dialogues went deeper than they actually were – that the movie was not just about his memories, but about his memories as well. Still, the deep chasm between mother and daughter, past and present, is part of the film’s seductive nighttime chill. Finally, a fog lifted with the heartwarming belief that trying to fill the void was worth the fight.

An A24 release, “The Eternal Daughter,” was rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for some drugged ingredients. Duration: 96 minutes. three stars out of four.

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Follow AP Movie Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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