An artist and her elderly mother return to a hotel haunted by their family past, in hopes that the daughter can write a film about her parent.
This eerie, gothic mystery slowly allows us to peel away the truth behind Julie and Rosalind, staying at a hotel that was the former home of Rosalind when she was younger. Throughout their stay, we begin to understand the good and bad memories of her life, and how Julie hopes to write this into a script. She feels guilty about this, but knows this step in her career is important. Shot in secret during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the production doesn’t feel lacking or distant, how so many other filmed projects now look that were recorded then. The world building with just a few characters, and clever cinematography lets us immerse into the spaces with them, looking at the light and dark areas of the screen, in fear of seeing something that we wouldn’t want to.
Tilda Swinton truly is breath-taking in this film. As well as playing the daughter, she also brings the mother to life. As mothers and daughters usually have, there are similarities between them, mostly below the surface, but with that also comes great differences. Swinton gives both characters patience and depth through the way that she plays them, as well as misunderstandings and ruined moments which make this film’s relationships feel realistic compared to the written horror that possibly shadows around each corner.
Written and directed by Joanna Hogg, we truly begin to feel the weight of this family history, and how complex we are as generations of people. I love the use of the receptionist, juxtaposing the aging of Tilda Swinton’s characters and emphasising the lack of care assumed from someone like her. Hogg has written everyone to be a stereotype of expectations, but we’re left wondering if this is actually who they are, or how someone else may be perceiving them.
You can’t deny how much the hotel feels like an important character in the storytelling. Both the location of the mother’s joyful yet upsetting past, and the setting of the current holiday stay, mysterious fog descends upon the garden, feeling like a wall that can’t be broken through. No escape, yet for a stone covered driveway and a possible maze of leafy hedges. We mostly see the exterior explored at night, allowing darkness to intensify the fear, yet Swinton’s characters don’t necessarily want to leave. Reminiscent of The Shining, noises and steep staircases frame characters as well as nothingness, to truly emphasise the loss these characters are facing alone.
As the film ends and the fog begins to lift, we’re left understanding the story more as an audience, yet still wanting to ask questions. Joanna Hogg has created a film that is incredibly moving and explorative, allowing us to confront our own worries as we watch Swinton’s characters do the same.