Premiering just last month at the Venice International Film Festival, Joanna Hogg’s latest mystery-drama is eye-popping from the very first shot. It follows a middle-aged filmmaker and her mother as they stay in a hotel near the English countryside, uncovering secrets from the past during their getaway. The premise of this movie may seem simple, but the film itself deals with a lot: family, loss, memory, time, identity. What makes such expansive concerns work together is the way Hogg focuses these thematic elements around an intimate portrayal of a mother and her daughter working through their trauma together, ultimately showing how remembering may be the key to dealing with the pain of the present.
Tilda Swinton once again proves her unparalleled acting ability by playing both the mother (Rosalind) and daughter (Julie) so seamlessly one would think it was a set of twins instead of the same actress. With great emotional range, she locks us onto the edge of our seats as the film hurls toward an ending that’s as shocking as it is memorable. Though there are some other fantastic performances—such as Carly-Sophia Davies’ portrayal of a surly receptionist—Swinton is really carrying the whole movie here, if only due to her playing the two leading roles. She perfectly captures each character’s struggles: Rosalind, having lived a life full of letdowns and loss, is now being cared for by her daughter, which gives her an extremely vulnerable yet jaded aura; and Julie’s entire life being put on hold to care for her aging mother has clearly led to some resentment, but has also made her extremely conscious of her own life and what she’s trying (and failing) to do with it.
The film is shot amidst landscapes that are shrouded by fog, as if to capture the way both of Swinton’s characters are moving through life: listless, a bit terrified and totally unsure of what comes next. Their existential uncertainty is highlighted by music that’s reminiscent of your favorite ghost movie, and yet (other than a few key scenes), ghosts are more or less off-screen. Instead, what these two characters seem to be haunted by is the past, and their lack of knowing how to reckon with it. With the occasional pop of color, cinematographer Ed Rutherford is able to build a world that’s entrancing but also anxiety-inducing, making audiences feel Julie’s claustrophobia as she plunges through empty hallways and seemingly endless blankets of nightfall.
Time, memory, and human connection are all central thematic interests in this film, and they’re engaged with beautifully both in terms of visuals and dialogue. In one scene, after learning her uncle died in the very hotel they’re staying at, Julie is guilt-stricken, and Rosalind’s only way to comfort her is to say that “that’s what rooms do: they hold memories.” Watching Julie struggle with the weight of these memories, we come to realize that what’s outside of the rooms—life—is much scarier. It’s a beguiling, thought-provoking movie with an ending you won’t be able to predict, and won’t be able to forget. Catch it in theaters while you can!
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