A romantic ghost story that shares only an unfortunate title commonality with the next installment of The Twilight Saga, The Eclipse is that true rarity in English-language cinema – a character-driven horror film. The Eclipse is far from a traditional horror film. It’s more of an old-fashioned ghost story in that the apparitions play a more significant plot role as to what they mean to the characters instead of what they do to them. The Eclipse is an Irish gothic about the lingering power of grief and how it can manifest itself in the most unusual ways – like thinking you’re seeing ghosts and possibly being right. With a spectacular lead performance from the great Ciaran Hinds (Rome, Munich) and a lovely, lyrical quality courtesy of the great Irish playwright Conor McPherson, The Eclipse is an effective character study that also happens to be a ghost story. With only a few notable flaws, it is definitely worth a look if just for the fact that it’s such a rarity in the horror world to see a script that takes its characters and its concepts seriously.
The multi-talented Hinds plays a widower named Michael Farr in a seaside Irish town who now watches his two beautiful children and helps with an upcoming writer’s conference. One night, he thinks he see a shadow at the bottom of the stairs. The next night, the lights go out and odd noises start up. Over the next few days, he meets the egotistical author Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) and the sweet-and-beautiful Lena Morelle (Iben Hjelje, probably best remembered from High Fidelity), who also happens to be a writer whose work focuses on the supernatural. He may be married but Nicholas and Lena have a romantic history and possibly a future although she can clearly do better this self-centered S.O.B., something she realizes when she gets closer to Michael.
Technically, the film is much more beautiful than you might imagine as writer/director McPherson and Ivan McCullough beautifully capture the Irish seaside with a number of long shots of the gorgeous horizon. McPherson gives the whole piece a poetic quality; some of the film’s best qualities are not unlike a story that your Irish uncle would tell you after a few pints on a warm Spring Sunday night.
On a performance level, Ciaran Hinds has delivered in character actor roles for years and never fails to disappoint. He imbues Michael with gentle warmth that’s crucial for the success of the role. We root for Michael not just in romance but in fatherhood and in dealing with his grief (and kicking Nicholas’s ass). Sadly, much of the material that doesn’t center on Hinds doesn’t have the same strength as the rest of the piece. Quinn is hammy but not quite believable as a jackass American who thinks more than a bit too much of himself and McPherson has a tough time fleshing out Hjelje’s character in the same depth as Hinds’ and I believe there’s a stronger version of The Eclipse where she’s an equally three-dimensional role. Hinds is so good that it’s not difficult to see what draws her to him but I still think the part is underwritten. In fact, the whole film is a bit underwritten in that it runs under 90 minutes and feels like it could have been fully fleshed out into a longer, more detailed story. It will end far too abruptly for most viewers.