This article considers a new series of uncanny films by UK filmmakers for their connections with the classics of the “folk horror” series of the 1970s and for their implicit commentary on ecology, gender, and postcolonialism in the post-Brexit context. Critical attention focuses primarily on two films—Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men (2022) and Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter (2022)—with secondary emphasis on a new “cycle” or “mini-wave” of folklore-inflected horror films set in liminal British spaces, including Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth (2021), Charlotte Colbert’s She Will (2021), Lee Haven Jones’s The Feast (Welsh: Gwledd, 2021), and Alex Garland’s Men (2022).

Haunted places are the only ones people can live in.

—Michel de Certeau

The viral image from the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023 came courtesy of Penny Mordaunt, a Conservative MP whose name might have been pulled from a Gothic penny dreadful. Clad in a laurel-embroidered teal dress with matching cape and headband from the luxury brand Safiyaa while carrying the ceremonial seventeenth-century Sword of State, Mordaunt reflected, in her sartorial choices, the cultural resurgence of militaristic medieval cosplay and xenophobic island myths in this reactionary era in British politics. In a cinematic spectacle that connected many deeply rooted English fantasies while disguising the ongoing fiascoes of Brexit Britain, Mordaunt delivered the sword to King Charles III, an adherent of the Traditionalist “critique of the false premises of modernity” who supports “ancient notions of balance and harmony.”1

If Mordaunt’s costume recalls the medieval maidens of 1970s folk horror, Charles III’s aristocratic Gaia philosophy echoes that of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) from Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). Fifty years after the release of that folk horror classic, Britain’s current circumstances create an uncanny historical doppelgänger effect with that earlier era. Similar concerns about inflation, immigration, economic chaos, civil rights struggles, and climate disaster have generated a new cycle of Brexit-era folk horror and gothic pictures that haunt this weird moment in which the political unconscious roils with the recurrence of the repressed. As in that era, contemporary British horror does a surprising amount of cultural heavy lifting. Like many of the horror classics of the 1970s, including The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971), The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973), Penda’s Fen (Alan Clarke, 1974), and The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978), recent films by Remi Weekes (His House, 2020), David Lowery (The Green Knight, 2021), Ben Wheatley (In the Earth, 2021), Charlotte Colbert (She Will, 2021), Lee Haven Jones (Gwledd/The Feast, 2021), Alex Garland (Men, 2022), Mark Jenkin (Enys Men, 2022), and Joanna Hogg (The Eternal Daughter, 2022) answer the call for counterprogramming.

Harking back to its 1970s predecessor, this new cycle poses troubling questions about Britain’s self-image as a place where Volk-ish villages supposedly thrive in harmony with timeless natural rhythms. In folk horror, journeys into these areas are generally marked by rituals involving the murder of outsiders. For this reason, the investigation of British “blood and soil” myths takes many forms in these films, past and present. Like many of the classics they emulate, these new films often challenge or exceed conventional generic boundaries, or hybridity between subgenres and modes. Recent British horror takes its cues from the more politically astute of the older cycle of films, like Penda’s Fen, with its depiction of the enchanted landscape as a powerful source of queer resistance for marginalized and “mixed” or “foreign” outsiders battling against “a sick culture centered on authority and death.” In their post-Brexit context, the current cycle also contains a critical exploration of nationalism operating in tandem with questions about the idea of the meaning of “Britain” itself. The Feast, The Eternal Daughter, Enys Men, and In the Earth are set in places where their characters find literal and metaphorical borders disrupted rather than secured by encountering a larger sense of Britain, while His House, The Green Knight, She Will, and Men feature foreign or minoritized characters who encounter Englishness as horror. Long-standing anxieties about the fissures between England and Britain, between Great Britain and the British Isles, and between Britain and the postcolonial world reemerge as important themes.

Taken together, the recent cycle of films critically refurbishes and creatively expands on the horror classics that inspired them, such as the disquiet and violence underlying rural British life in Michael Reeves’s unrelentingly grim Witchfinder General (1968), and in the equally sensational but more confused films of Haggard and Hardy. The new films recall and at times criticize the environmental politics driving classic folk horror toward depictions of village life as offering a refuge from unsustainable urbanism. In these places, pockets of antimodern extremism can burst into violence, hinting at the paradoxical politics of 1970s right-wing environmentalism in the British context when it joins forces with xenophobia or feels threatened by representatives of city life. Contemporary British horror also takes up an oppositional stance toward the revenant aftereffects of colonialism portrayed in the 1970s horror cycle in films like The Shout and The Ghoul (Freddie Francis, 1975). Outside the horror genre, Nicolas Roeg’s critical meditations on Australian settler colonialism in Walkabout (1971) influenced Mark Jenkin’s depiction of the Cornish landscape as an uncanny environment in Enys Men. (“[Walkabout] is where is all started for me,” he notes.2)

Martin (Joel Fry) and Alma (Ellora Torchia) trek through a disrupted English landscape in In The Earth.

Martin (Joel Fry) and Alma (Ellora Torchia) trek through a disrupted English landscape in In The Earth.

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The films of Jenkin and Hogg, in particular, represent the new cycle at its most self-reflective, refitting the folk horror and the “old dark house” picture, respectively. They also evoke their 1970s references through their use of analog film in creating a throwback mise-en-scène that highlights the materiality of cinema, an additional pleasure for the pixel-fatigued and AI-beleaguered viewer, without falling into the trap of promoting the cultural values of the bad old days. Enys Men features Mary Woodvine as “The Volunteer,” a widowed naturalist observing an increasingly uncanny world on an island off the coast of Cornwall. The Eternal Daughter, a self-reflexive “take” on the gothic haunted-mansion tale, stars Tilda Swinton in a double role as both Julie, a filmmaker, and her mother, Rosalind, visiting an eerie stately home that used to belong to their family. Many of the films in this miniwave, like Enys Men, emphasize the British attraction to the ecological uncanny, while others, like Hogg’s, critically inhabit the conventionally gendered aspects of the English gothic. Several other films, like She Will, The Feast, and Men, combine these themes in various ways.

An implicit critique of English nationalist myths of racial homogeneity, village life, and patriarchal control pervades these recent films. His House attacks the English treatment of African asylum seekers, while Men depicts Middle Britain as an abusive nightmare for women outsiders. On the other side of this equation, non-English places in Britain often play a metaphorical role of resistance in these films. In the Earth, She Will, The Feast, and Enys Men find in the Celtic histories of Scotland, Wales, and England a persistent counterweight to England’s exploitative incursions. In The Eternal Daughter, Hogg limns the complicated border of Wales in order to dramatize how individual, family, and collective English identities might be reconceived in terms of a loss of ownership, the dissolution of fixed ideas about property, and the potential for productive connections across postcolonial racial lines.

Even the more conventional of these pictures raise questions about borders and Britishness in their selections of locations as much as in their casting. These questions of mapping themselves tend to connect back with gender. Men operates as a post-Brexit parable insofar as it tracks the journey of Harper (Jessie Buckley), an Irish citizen, into the heart of darkness at the core of Little Britain, a town where every inhabitant, each played by Rory Kinnear in a crazed tour de force, is a misogyny-spewing outgrowth of the accursed local greenery. She Will connects the Scottish landscape with acts of vengeance for ancient and contemporary violence against women, with the trees haunted by the murdered women accused of witchcraft in centuries past, and the forest offering a deadly psychedelic elixir for the destruction of English devil gentlemen like Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell), who sexually assaulted the film star Veronica (Alice Krige) when she was an underage actor. She Will and The Feast treat the Scottish wilderness and the Welsh landscape, respectively, as potentially sentient reservoirs of memory and rage for women to draw on in their quests to avenge gendered violence. These films portray the land as anthropomorphic in binary terms. Men, through its title and its visual nods to the folkloric “Green Man” figure, recasts its warped vision of nature as male. This would serve merely to invert convention were it not for the complicating fact that Kinnear’s characters begin to “give birth” to one another in a series of nightmarish physical transformations.

Veronica (Alice Krige) and Desi (Kota Eberhardt) confront the unquiet forests of Scotland in She Will.

Veronica (Alice Krige) and Desi (Kota Eberhardt) confront the unquiet forests of Scotland in She Will.

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These films share a sense of weird ecology in which a damaged planet is fighting back in violent modes, challenging the stereotypes associated with soft-focus ecological thinking about the planet either as a nurturing maternal force or as a damsel in distress—as a boundlessly giving and forgiving presence or as a victim in need of paternalistic protection. The earth continues on without us even if we destroy ourselves, but it is meteorologically pissed off. Potential terms for this mode of horror might be “dark mothering,” “unmothering,” or “alternative mothering.” These ideas derive in part from Barbara Creed’s classic cinematic concept of the “monstrous feminine,” but direct themselves more specifically to the ecological uncanny in its eruptions of violent fecundity and its acknowledgment of entropy and abjection.3 My intention in suggesting these terms is to counteract the cliches around “Mother Earth,” not to regender the planet. These films reject the pastoral forms of environmentalism that view the natural world as a vast womb-like mommy with whom we can connect through childish fantasies of safety, security, and nourishment.

She Will’s Veronica and The Feast’s possessing spirit inside the recently deceased Cadi (Annes Elwy) pursue “dark mothering” by investigating these clichés, directly or indirectly, by unleashing violence from a landscape depicted as gendered. Men’s incarnations of the Green Man and In the Earth’s landscape deity, Parnag Fegg, by contrast, engage in forms of “unmothering” by personifying the landscape in ways that critically undermine its typically gendered associations as maternal. Inverting these stereotypes by depicting nature as hostile, indifferent, and pitiless doesn’t do justice to many of these films’ portrayals of the earth in active revolt. The Eternal Daughter’s Rosalind and Julie challenge conventional gender dynamics in a different and more complex way, by adding “alternative mothering” (and daughtering), in an expanded, and more radically positive sense of feeling lovingly haunted, back into the equation. All of these films tap into horror’s generic potential to unsettle binary divisions between the dead and the living, the animate and the inanimate, the natural and the human made, and among people, animals, plants, and even stones, expressing the horror genre’s long-standing role of policing or upending perceptions of the self and the other.4

In a post-Brexit essay, “Awake Awake Sweet England,” the English writer Gary Budden writes that “now is the time to fully interrogate whatever ideas we have about ‘the land’ and who and what belongs there.”5 Made queasy by the idea of “Englishness,” Budden resists “the evils of nationalism and corrupted ideas of belonging to ‘the land’” implied by terms like “Deep England.” Jenkin raises a similar set of issues as they relate specifically to Cornwall through his collaborations with Mary Woodvine, both in his debut feature, Bait (2019), and in Enys Men (Cornish for “Stone Island”). Woodvine, as an actor, exists in a specific zone of extratextual meaning often connected with Cornwall. Her presence often indicates a more complicated and critical stance vis-à-vis “the idea of Englishness.” Known for her roles in Cornwall-set television shows—Joy Cronk in Doc Martin (2004–22) and Mrs. Teague in Poldark (2015–19)—Woodvine also starred in Bill Scott’s Kernewek (Cornish-language) short film Blight (2003). In Bait, Jenkin cast Woodvine as Sandra, a well-meaning English occupier who rents out seaside cottages, putting her family into an escalating conflict with the local fishermen, represented by Martin (Edward Rowe). Her character in Enys Men is likewise an English transplant, but in both films, Jenkin worked with Rowe and Woodvine to unpick the region’s cinematic stereotypes, including the clichéd depiction of piracy (Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn, 1939), leering violent yokels (Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, 1971), and isolated estates containing unchristian deviance (The Ghoul).

Mary Woodvine as the Volunteer in Enys Men.

Mary Woodvine as the Volunteer in Enys Men.

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Enys Men opens by depicting the solitary routines of Woodvine’s anonymous Volunteer, an observer tasked with recording sightings of a rare cliffside flower on a remote Cornish island in the spring of 1973. Soon enough, strange things begin to happen. She senses the underground activity of tin miners from a previous era, spotting one of them, the Miner (Joe Gray), in her house. She finds bloodied yellow raingear belonging to the Boatman (Edward Rowe), along with part of the supply vessel Govenik days before it sinks. She encounters the Girl (Flo Crowe)—who might also be a younger version of the Volunteer—who jumps from the roof of the Volunteer’s cottage and then slices her belly open. Doubles of herself soon appear everywhere, including one at the site of an ancient standing stone as a helmeted rescuer at the wreck of the Govenik, and another amid a group of children in flower garlands singing a Cornish song. The standing stone seems to focus the uncanny energy of the place, disappearing and reappearing at her doorstep and driving her into visionary states. At the center of the narrative is a strange greenish lichen that Woodvine first finds growing on some rare seaside flowers and then sees binding itself with a scar on her abdomen (echoing the Girl’s wounded belly).

Enys Men grounds itself in 1973 through the Volunteer’s reading material: the best-selling environmental pamphlet A Blueprint for Survival (1972), by Edward Goldsmith and Robert Allen. The authors looked forward to “the dawn of a new age in which Man will learn to live with the rest of Nature rather than against it.”6 Critic Tara Judah notes that this book cannot be judged by its cover, however. The authors espouse “the virtues of living in small, deindustrialised communities for moral and environmental health.”7 But Goldsmith would be criticized later for modeling his utopian small-scale communities on an ideology of ethnic homogenization, indicating the influence of right-wing ideas about aristocratic country life and antidemocratic village mindsets in right-wing British environmental circles.8 This placement of reading material in Enys Men, then, encapsulates the historical matrix out of which folk horror originally emerged, with its violent confusion of impulses about the supposedly natural order of the land and who is welcome to live on it, and, therefore, reflects on the troubling conception of “Englishness” criticized by Budden for its reactionary attachments.

Jenkin follows Budden’s rejection of Brexit-era xenophobic English ideas about communion with old ways providing some purportedly more authentic and natural path of living. This resonance between the present era of ecological chaos—what scientists term “global weirding”—and the mixed-up environmental politics of the 1970s lies at the core of Enys Men. The Volunteer carefully records the spread of the lichen among the flowers in the days leading up to the boat disaster, but afterward she shifts into a mode of climate denial, listing “no change” day after day as events accelerate in their uncanniness. The film treats this historical rhyming between eras critically. Jenkin’s layered historical vision of the exploitation of the region—Cornwall’s modern tin mines rested on the sites of industrial extraction that existed in Roman times, and, before that, in the Bronze Age—suggests that there might be no “original” or “natural” state to which it is possible to return.

The film also investigates a temporal polarity that appears to run in both directions simultaneously, allowing for time travel to reverse course and for the past, present, and possibly the future to interact within the film’s rapidly mutating montage structure. The children who visit Woodvine’s cottage dressed in folkloric attire and carrying sacred plants, for example, are singing the lyrics to a song written not in 1973 but in 2022: Gwenno’s Cornish-language tune “Kan Me,” from her album Tresor. The children appear to be visiting an abandoned house open to the elements, implying that their appearance might be occurring decades after the events of 1973. This interpretation is one possibility resting within the overall ambiguity of the film. The Volunteer is haunted by the ghosts of the area’s past, but Woodvine also might be a ghost herself. If so, she not only haunts the future (our present) but also is haunted by that future, since she is able to experience the uncanny folding of time, witnessing both past and future events.

The layered historical vision of Enys Men

The layered historical vision of Enys Men

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Enys Men depicts modernity, in the form of the Volunteer’s radio, stove, and gasoline-fueled electricity generator, as noisy, annoying, and dangerous but not devoid of its own charms. Within the generator’s obnoxious sphere of influence, it produces cups of tea, hot baths, and an oven batch of scones that the Volunteer shares with the Boatman. The supply-laden Govenik and the coast guard rescue helicopter that appears at the site of the Boatman’s watery grave both run on fossil fuels. Like so many back-to-the-land initiatives, the Volunteer’s self-imposed withdrawal from contemporary society remains implicated in the seemingly inescapable carbon economy. Enys Men explores these contradictions in their complexity and without simplistic moralizing, showing the Volunteer reading about ecological catastrophe while in a bath whose hot water comes courtesy of carbon. By contrast, the nature cinematography that infuses Enys Men paradoxically highlights the strange modernity of the environment. Hybrid spaces indicate the wounded histories of human intervention, such as building stones cracking under moss and lichen, the wrecked church, or rusted iron from abandoned mining structures protruding from rocks. Another book, The Observer’s Book of Lichens, first published in 1963, rests on the Volunteer’s table. Jenkin’s visual emphasis on lichens fits the film’s themes of perennial transplantation and grafting, as opposed to any supposedly pure state of the landscape.

According to Mark Fisher’s taxonomy of the weird and the eerie in uncanny works of art, weirdness involves more blatant irruptions of things that do not belong, while eeriness involves strange impressions of contact with more subtle, unseen forces and gaps in knowledge that needn’t be so jarring.9 Jenkin’s film contains plenty of weirdness, as when the flowers seem to bend toward the Volunteer’s hand of their own accord, or when the standing stone doorsteps her, but it also engages with Fisher’s taxonomy of the eerie. Describing how Brian Eno’s album Ambient 4: On Land (1982) reflects the atmosphere of the Suffolk coast, Fisher writes of the “nonorganic sentience” of a “dreaming landscape”: “There is no doubt a sense of solitude, a withdrawal from the hubbub of banal society . . . where the outside designates, at one level, a radically depastoralised nature, and, at the outer limits, a different, heightened encounter with the Real.”10 These remarks seem applicable to Enys Men, which treats the stones, sea, lichens, and human presence as a mutually imbricated dreamscape. Jenkin’s vision of the ecological uncanny challenges conventional concepts of the pastoral or the Romantic sublime as well as the secular utilitarian or theological Dominionist views of nature as a resource to cultivate or dominate. The film denies the Fortress Britain mentality of the island as metaphor for the body politic, one that must be protected from invasion. Jenkin shows not only that this is impossible but also that “we” (that is, the English) are the invaders.

Instead, Jenkin’s Cornwall offers symbiosis and hybridity. This puts its observer-protagonist in touch with a human history and a landscape replete with the paradoxical fragility and endurance of life. This film isn’t so much a blueprint for survival as it is a case for the reintroduction and regrafting of life after an extinction, entailing an important shift in rhetorical ground from defending the dwindling resources of the past through natalism to envisioning a shared future that might yet prove fecund in an expanded sense, one in which haunting replaces procreation as a means of transmitting signals between generations, languages, cultures, species, and variously defined kingdoms. The lichens that appear on Woodvine’s skin express a strange and unsettling “dreaming landscape.” But her weird fusion with the lichens suggests more than an absorption in (and by) the land. After all, some forms of lichen can reproduce both sexually, through the lichen’s fungal component, and asexually, through its vegetative component. The Volunteer’s ghostly double, as conjured by the children’s Cornish singing, might represent such a plantlike asexual form of reproduction, continuity, hybridity, and symbiosis, through art. This image melds with a larger picture of “dark mothering,” “unmothering,” or “alternative mothering,” grounded positively in futurity, whereby the grafting of eras results in new arrangements that disturb the social order of genealogical birthing and reverse the course of a literalist chronology. The children give life to the Volunteer just as she gives life to the apparition of the Girl she sees on her roof and the Baby (Loveday Twomlow) she encounters in the vanished church: impossible, beautiful, necessary.

In Enys Men, the Volunteer comes to “haunt her own self, both as a child and an adult.”11 Through this curious reversal of chronology, which also inverts the typical conception of hauntings as outbursts from the past, Woodvine also becomes her own double, both visually and thematically. Something similar happens with Swinton’s double role in The Eternal Daughter. The Eternal Daughter takes up self-reflection by enveloping its mise-en-scène in an all-pervading atmosphere of mirroring. Swinton reprises her performance as Rosalind from Hogg’s pointedly reflexive The Souvenir films (2019 and 2021), while also taking on the role of Rosalind’s daughter Julie, now a filmmaker in middle age (and fictional stand-in for the director). Julie revisits her mother’s isolated stately home—now a hotel—on her mother’s birthday, while simultaneously remembering an earlier time they visited the hotel together when her mother was still living. While working on a film treatment about these twinned visits, Julie re-creates Rosalind’s birthday celebration in the hopes of communing with her mother’s ghost. But the two visits are intercut in ways that deliberately disorder the timeline, so that on an initial screening the viewer becomes aware of the full implications of what’s happening only in a gradually unfolding process of discovery.

The Eternal Daughter’s mise-en-scène of mirroring.

The Eternal Daughter’s mise-en-scène of mirroring.

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The “alternative mothering” portrayed in The Eternal Daughter is apparent in Julie’s suppressed anxieties about her art and her mother’s view of her supposedly “unnatural” life as a childless artist. In a key scene, Julie overhears Rosalind expressing to Bill (Joseph Mydell), a Black hotel employee whose wife’s ghost also may haunt the property, her opinion that her daughter’s films should not be viewed as inadequate substitutes for having children. Instead, Rosalind insists on describing Julie as a “mother” and ascribes to her the “practical magic of love.” This perception recasts mothering as a condition to which creative artists (and people) might aspire. Through its narrative repetition and its casting of Swinton in her double role, the film also portrays, with ambivalence and poignancy, the mothering of mothers, the mothering of oneself, and the mothering of one’s art. Julie is visibly moved by Rosalind’s implication that she regards Julie’s creative process as a form of “alternative mothering” in which procreation is not the only important form of continuity. By decoupling the concept of mothering from a stifling definition of literal child-rearing, Hogg raises questions about internalized natalist demands on women artists from society, and about what is really “natural.” Remembering her mother’s words allows Julie to deal with her ghosts creatively as she embarks on her nascent film project.

In its emphasis on mothers and mothering, The Eternal Daughter situates itself within a clearly signaled psychoanalytic framework. As a ghost story in the gothic mode, it inhabits a critical space within the parameters of Freud’s The Uncanny (1919), in particular. Analyzing stories of ghosts, doubles, and inanimate objects that come to life, as well as eerie repetitions of scenery while lost on travels in Italy, led Freud to conclude that the uncanny was not about the experience of the unknown, but rather about “that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar.”12 This connectivity between the linked polarities within the uncanny, between traveling and being at home, between the familiar (and the familial) and the strange, and between the stories of the supernatural and stories of family secrets is explored by Hogg with precision. In his book Haunted Journeys (1991), Dennis Porter analyzes the structure of this uncanny Freudian dynamic more generally. The “déjà vu of travel,” Porter writes, stems from the “home-sickness” of love, causing certain places to remind the traveler of their “first home,” their “mother’s genitals or her body,” and, in the process of this doubling, creating the impression that the “lands we pass through are haunted even if the ghosts do not manifest themselves directly.”13 Hogg’s film functions not so much as a checklist of these themes as a critical exploration of them: home as womb; womb as mom; mom as ghost.

In returning to a house that is no longer a family home, Rosalind is also haunted, by her memories of vanished furniture arrangements in these long-familiar rooms now made strange, and by her personal history as it relates to this place, including the death of a close relative during World War II and a miscarriage that took place long ago. Julie is heartbroken by the knowledge that their visit has awakened these painful memories. During her second visit to the house, Julie sees an apparition of Rosalind’s face and figure reflected in a window that, due to the double casting decision, also reflects her own face. She talks with Bill about how the house might be inhabited by the spirit of Bill’s wife, and, by implication, her mother’s. She hears what might be a presence in the rooms above her own (a loose window? Rosalind? Bill’s wife?). In the film’s culminating scene, Julie startles the receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies) by appearing to talk to herself while presenting a birthday cake to her vanished mother. Eventually we recognize that Julie has returned in order to commune with the dead. At this point in the film, the viewer experiences an ingenious, hair-raising reversal of conventional expectations surrounding the gothic tale of the haunted house. The thing that truly devastates Julie is not so much the possibility of a supernatural encounter as it is the disappearance of Rosalind’s ghost. At the ceremonial dinner with the birthday cake, Rosalind’s ghost no longer appears to Julie, leaving her bereft. “I didn’t get it right,” she tells Bill, implying that her visit is a ritual for Rosalind’s return.

Like Enys Men, The Eternal Daughter foregrounds its protagonist’s reading material, playing with a venerable trope of horror tales in which books offer keys to the unexplained. Like everything else in the film, this element, too, is highly self-reflexive. In bed, Julie reads Rudyard Kipling’s short story “They” (1904), with its opening lines about motoring across England’s countryside echoing the car journey that brought Julie to the isolated hotel. But this book cannot be judged by its cover, since “They” is an oddly cozy confection more than a tale of horror, and its theme of alternative child-rearing sets up both resonances and contrasts between key elements of Kipling’s story and Hogg’s film. Kipling’s protagonist encounters a woman living on a lonely estate amid a group of playful children. They have sought her out despite the fact that she doesn’t have any kids of her own, having, as she puts it, “neither borne nor lost!”14 The protagonist finally recognizes that he’s seeing the dead; the children are ghosts.

Julie (Tilda Swinton) holds a birthday cake for her deceased mother.

Julie (Tilda Swinton) holds a birthday cake for her deceased mother.

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Both The Eternal Daughter and “They” are stories about “alternative mothering,” with Kipling’s tale providing a kind of afterlife adoption agency for the area’s lost kids. Rosalind, however, presents Julie with a mothering presence from beyond the grave, while Julie attempts her own form of reverse maternity in her desire to care for her mother’s ghost on her birthday. Unlike Kipling’s story, which hinges on a romance plot, The Eternal Daughter makes the daughter–mother dynamic its central axis. Hogg discards Kipling’s racist male traveler protagonist to instead show solidarity across racial lines in the relationship that develops between Julie and Bill, who are linked together through their shared wish to encounter the spirits of their deceased loved ones. Bill took up the flute to keep his dead wife company; he has his own story drawn from a personal history that resists the anti-immigrant and antiblack politics of Brexit Britain. Instead, the film portrays Wales as a global, nonhomogeneous place where a white woman artist and a Black musician can bond over their losses, with a potential for future friendship existing in tension with old stories of colonialism.

Another book visible on Julie’s bedside makes a direct link with psychoanalysis: On Not Being Able to Paint, analyst and diarist Marion Milner’s (aka Joanna Field’s) 1950 account of creativity. Milner had embarked on the writing of her book as a result of her own dissatisfaction with the way arts were being taught in English schools. Julie, who struggles to find her artistic voice at film school in the Souvenir films, arrives in a state of writer’s block at the grand hotel near the borderlands where her mother’s family used to live, unable to get started on a new film project. Milner broke free of the constraints on her art by engaging in free-form explorations of paintings in which “subjects were usually phantastic” and that were “intimately connected” with “the problems of creativity and creative process.”15 Julie moves past her artistic paralysis through a somewhat analogous journey, depicting the filmmaking process in the form of the first page of a movie treatment that will follow the story of her travels with Rosalind.

While the connectivity with Kipling emphasizes The Eternal Daughter as a story about mothering, the link with Milner’s text suggests that confronting her family drama and absorbing herself in her mother’s world and memories have engendered an artistic breakthrough in her creative process. This loop closes with the final shots of the film, in which a taxi travels down the long road leading away from the hotel, just as the opening shots found Julie riding in a taxi toward the house. These bookends are not identical—the opening takes place inside the taxi, whereas the ending follows the vehicle from a distance—and neither shot is exactly the same as the page from Julie’s treatment, in which the taxi is white instead of black. The taxi driver at the beginning tells a ghost story about the house, which, we gather, is what Julie will be doing. These doubled taxis seem more like mirror images of one another, or negatives and positives from film prints, just as Swinton’s Julie and her Rosalind feel mirrored rather than twinned. But the driving logic of the doppelgänger in horror-film history as a cinematic image bound to Freudian ideas of the uncanny is also challenged by Hogg’s halls of mirrors. Rather than acting either as a harbinger of death or as a negatively narcissistic image, Hogg’s doubles, in The Eternal Daughter and throughout the Souvenir films, allow for self-critical reflection on the artistic process and the artist herself as the subject matter of these three important linked films. The gestures toward metafiction that mark the Souvenir films reappear here through an insistent uncanny frisson each time that Swinton is filmed in dramatic dialogue with herself. The viewer is aware of the trick while simultaneously accepting it, which is part of the mystery of cinema itself.

It might be argued that The Eternal Daughter contains surprising and unexpected links to the folkloric, through the film’s evocation of Kipling’s regional ghost story, and through the taxi driver’s tale about seeing a face in the windows of the hotel, framing the narrative as one grounded in a larger milieu of local legends and rituals attuned to the power of particular places capable of gathering and preserving the vanished past. And it’s true that The Eternal Daughter locates itself as a travel story about losing oneself in misty Wales, suggesting the haunted and liminal spaces that exist between generations, houses, owners, property lines, and national boundaries. The somewhat frosty greeting Julie receives from the Welsh receptionist in the deserted hotel is one that English visitors can experience in this part of Britain. In this space, time also dissolves, and Swinton doubles herself, albeit in a very different mode than Woodvine’s multiplication of her image and her time traveling in Enys Men. With all of that said, however, Hogg’s larger interests in The Eternal Daughter lie in a different direction than a sustained engagement with folk horror, tending instead toward the Freudian uncanny. She circles around the idea of home, invokes the ghost as a bearer of family secrets, and meditates analytically on the function of art in portraying what it might mean to be haunted in a larger sense.

By depicting areas that are “British” but pointedly non-English, Enys Men, The Eternal Daughter, and other recent folk-horror-infused films present their characters as foreigners in their own land, haunted by the uncanny possibilities of feeling not at home in places they mistook for their possessions. In their portrayal of eerie sites with buried secrets where their characters thought they were confident tourists or scientists, or where they or their families previously owned houses, they critically investigate the blurry identities created by the outlines of property itself, rather than holding a sword for the worship of tradition, or upholding the Brexit Britain metaphors of the inviolable and unmixed body politic.

These contemporary horror films also emphasize women’s journeys into weird woods or haunted places where “Englishness” dissolves.16 These are some of the places where England unravels in the face of what it still thinks of as Britain, or, rather, as a Britain that increasingly feels itself to be non-English, limning unstable property lines, portrayed in a time when Tory England was busy reimagining itself in fortress mode as a frightened or frightening zone of isolation from the world and from reality, in a blatant disavowal of the fractured state of an increasingly disunited kingdom. Various spirits, apparitions, or hallucinations encountered in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall contain the potential for alternative cognitive mappings of networked solidarity or connectivity within and among the British Isles. Exploring magic-infused non-English spaces, many of these films reflect a breakdown in the collective consciousness regarding what the idea of “Britain” itself might mean in relationship to England, as well as to Europe and the rest of the world. Another Britain than the one created by Brexit remains possible, these films suggest, one haunted by the future as much as the past, alive with the possibilities of hybridity between cultures and languages.


His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, “Introduction,” Sacred Web Conference, September 23/24, 2006,; and


Mark Jenkin, “The Cinematic DNA of Enys Men: Walkabout,” British Film Institute, film screening program notes, January 1, 2023,


Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection,” Screen 27, no. 1 (January/February 1986): 44–71.


See, for example, the concept of “transformative otherness” developed by Adam Lowenstein in Horror Film and Otherness (New York: Columbia University Press, 2022), 12.


Gary Budden, “Awake Awake Sweet England: Why We Need Landscape Punk,” The Quietus October 24, 2017,


Edward Goldsmith, Robert Allen, Michael Allaby, John Davoll, and Sam Lawrence, preface to “A Blueprint for Survival,” special issue, The Ecologist 2, no. 1 (January 1972),


Tara Judah, “A Blueprint for Survival,” in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray disc and DVD of Enys Men (British Film Institute, 2023), 4.


George Monbiot, “Stealing Our Clothes,” The Guardian, April 30, 2002,


Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 10–11, 61–62.


Fisher, 80.


Rob Young, “A Mayday for Mayday,” in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray disc and DVD of Enys Men (British Film Institute, 2023), 15.


Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (London: Penguin Books, 2002), 124.


Dennis Porter, Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 12.


Rudyard Kipling, “They” (n.p.: The Kipling Society, 2023 [1904]),


Marion Milner, On Not Being Able to Paint (London: Routledge, 2010 [1950]), 25.


In this regard, they emulate the figure of the voyageuse who seeks “a different idea of voyage and a different housing of gender” in “travel that is not conquest, dwelling that is not domination.” Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (London: Verso, 2002), 86.