Even in the era of linked franchises, you might assume that an indie distributor like A24 could resist the temptation to join the likes of Marvel, DC, and Star Wars and indulge in a shared universe. 2022, however, has proved that assumption dead wrong, with both Pearl (a festival favourite that serves as a prequel to X) and now Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter, a time- and genre-jumped sequel to The Souvenir Part 2, establishing beyond all doubt that A24 are all in on the Hogg Cinematic Universe. A gentle ghost story that reunites us with budding filmmaker Julie Hart in adulthood, it lacks the immensity of the wit and sparkle of the Souvenir films, but is still a graceful endnote to their story.
Tilda Swinton, who already played Julie’s mum Rosalind in the Souvenir films, here takes double duty as both Rosalind and Julie herself, who was, of course, previously played by Swinton’s daughter. Now an established director, Julie has taken the aged and increasingly fragile Rosalind on a holiday to the old Welsh country house where Rosalind spent chunks of her childhood and which is now a largely forgotten hotel. It’s part family holiday, part research trip for a ghost movie Julie is planning, and partly a goodbye to Rosalind, though Julie can’t quite bring herself to believe that.
There are hints of the supernatural at the hotel, with bumps in the night and a ghostly figure at one of the windows but, as far as actual horror goes, this is far more ‘BBC adaptation of M.R. James’ than, say, Hammer Horror. Hogg evokes the visuals of old British horror with expert skill – The Eternal Daughter is gorgeous, from misty winter roads to blazingly colourful sunrises, and has an excellent score – but never really actually seeks to scare you, which does make for an often glacial haunting.
In fact, the greatest tension comes from the tetchy relationship Julie – seemingly the only guest – has with the hotel’s receptionist/waitress (played by Carly Sophia-Davies), who is initially mostly hostile to any requests Julie has. In keeping with the theme of the Souvenir movies maybe being a little too upper-middle-class for their own good, a lot of the distress in The Eternal Daughter is about the horror of bad service. Hogg gradually builds depth to this conflict, which goes out on a very well-done grace note, but there’s a lot of repetition to it as Julie basically just moves between three rooms and the hotel’s gardens throughout the entire runtime – this was a lockdown-era production and it really shows.
The Eternal Daughter is a deliberate patience-tester, which is why it’s so crucial that the 96 minutes you spend with it are spent pretty much exclusively with Swinton. She gives two fine performances, returning back to the Rosalind role effortlessly and actually managing to build on her daughter’s performance for when she’s playing Julie, successfully capturing the specific energy that fuelled The Souvenir. It’s all very meta, heavily relying on a pre-established Hogg oeuvre knowledge to get the most out of it (Rosalind’s dog Louis is again played by one of Swinton’s own spaniels, for example), all the way up to a self-referential finale that didn’t entirely work for me. I, personally, adored Souvenir Part 2, though, and while The Eternal Daughter doesn’t reach those same heights, it makes for an eerie and compelling enough postscript.