Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn
Directed by Conor McPherson
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
When a movie is introduced as “an atmospheric drama containing enough relationship and genre elements that it’s seen as a potential crossover hit“, we figure it’s something we should at least mention to our readers to be on the lookout for. You know … in case those genre elements elevate it to being a quality horror film that merits spending 85 or so minutes with. I’m sorry to say The Eclipse doesn’t quite live up to that standard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile by other measures.
The film starts off slowly by showing the viewer just the things he or she needs to know with very little dialogue, but it gets to the spooks right away as we see that Michael (Hinds), a woodworking teacher who’s lost his wife to illness and is raising their two children on his own, is haunted. Not, however, by his former spouse. Instead he sees visions of her father, a wheelchair-bound old man in a nursing home edging closer and closer to death. In the midst of this Michael crosses paths with two authors who are in town for the annual literary festival: arrogant but charming Nicholas (Quinn), whose latest book is being made into a movie, and Lena (Hjejle), who writes about ghosts and, coincidentally, has a bit of history with the married but philandering Nicholas.
Michael volunteers as a driver/errand runner for the fest and forms a bond with Lena while she simultaneously fends off Nicholas’ drunken advances to rekindle the one-night stand they shared several months before. It’s all much more soap opera than supernatural with an emphasis on drama over mystery, but the audience that sticks it out reaps the rewards of watching director McPherson flex his muscles bringing the source material to life.
The script he co-wrote with Billy Roche (who penned Tales from Rainwater Pond, on which The Eclipse is based) is intelligent and moving. We often say a project is “framed and filmed well” or “beautifully shot”; The Eclipse is all that and more. The cinematography and camera work are what the adjectives “top-notch” and “fluid” were invented for. The mood is intimate and intense one minute, sweeping and panoramic the next. Ireland’s gorgeous scenery and creepy ruins are as much characters in the film as Michael, Nicholas, and Lena.
We also get some pretty excellent acting on all counts. Hinds is well deserving of the Best Actor award he won at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where the film had its premiere. His grief is palpable and feels authentic. Hjejle shows she’s still just as naturally talented as she was when she first caught our eye opposite John Cusack in High Fidelity — has it really been ten years since then, and why isn’t she in more films? Quinn plays the pompous ass so convincingly you can see why Lena almost bought into his bullshit.
There are a couple of unexpected — some might say out of place — jump scares thrown in for good measure and one or two scenes with visuals that can be called horrific, or at least more in the thriller vein than anything else, but overall The Eclipse is horror-related in theme only, not execution. Yes, everyone is very pensive, even Michael’s young son and daughter, and Irish playwrights (of which McPherson is one of the most renowned) are known for incorporating subjects like ghosts and death into their works on a regular basis. Nonetheless, unless you’re up for wading through a romantic triangle that devolves into a rather stereotypical physical confrontation just for the payoff of a few startling moments scattered about, steer clear of The Eclipse.
3 out of 5
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