Eclipse, The (Ireland, 2009)

March 25, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Eclipse, The Poster

Although The Eclipse is technically a horror film, dealing as it does with issues of the supernatural, it has the heart of a romance and the tone of a drama. It's slow, thoughtful, and melancholy - at times seeming to forget that a ghost story is supposed to be at least marginally scary. The acting is of the highest caliber, but the characters and their circumstances are underwritten. When the end arrives with its perfunctory stab at closure, there is satisfaction with neither the ghost story nor the love story. Both seem truncated, as if they are part of a larger that is never realized.

The Eclipse is essentially a three-character tale, transpiring in rural Ireland at the time of an annual literature festival. One of the organizers, Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds), is a recent widower, having lost his wife to cancer. He is now saddled not only with the duty of being the family's lone bread-winner but of raising a son and daughter. Two of the luminaries invited to this year's gathering are the acerbic, self-absorbed Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), and the shy, quiet Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle). A past fling links them but, while Nicholas is eager to re-kindle the spark, Lena is considerably less interested. Instead, she begins spending time with the sad, somber Michael, who gradually opens up to her and confesses that he believes he has seen the ghost of his father-in-law. There are complications, however. First, his father-in-law is still alive and second, Nicholas becomes jealous of the growing attachment between Lena and Michael.

For most of The Eclipse it's possible to forget that this is a ghost story and settle in to enjoy the interaction of the main characters. Nevertheless, there are impediments to unfettered appreciation. Although Ciaran Hinds and Iben Hjejle are accomplished actors and their performances in this movie are solid, little emotional chemistry is evident between them. Admittedly, this isn't intended to be a tale about two teenagers falling madly in love; it's about a pair of wounded middle-aged individuals finding an element of solace in shared silences. Still, the romance is underwhelming. More interesting elements, such as Michael's relationships with his father-in-law and children, are given short shrift despite being more promising than some of what makes it onto the screen.

Occasionally, director McPherson remembers that this is a horror movie. He provides us with a couple of solid "boo!" moments and one that's creepily effective because it is presented so matter-of-factly, without even the aid of a musical cue - just a shadowy figure walking through a space near the foot of a staircase. The problem with the supernatural factor in The Eclipse is that it feels like a secondary element when, in fact, it represents the core of the movie's meaning. As a result, when the (anti)climactic scene arrives, it underwhelms.

I appreciate the craft inherent in the making of this movie. McPherson shows great skill in assembling the elements - the movie looks good, the acting is top-notch, and there are dueling hints of menace and sorrow in the atmosphere. I also approve of the concept of making a horror film that's neither bloody nor overwrought. Ultimately, however, the story didn't draw me in, and that's where the fatal flaw lies. I see a handful of movies like this every year - productions that I admire more than like, and such is the case here. The Eclipse contains elements of horror, drama, and romance, yet somehow fails to succeed fully as any one of the three or all of them combined.

Eclipse, The (Ireland, 2009)

Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle Aidan Quinn
Screenplay: Conor McPherson, based on Tales from Rainwater Pond by Billy Roche
Cinematography: Ivan McCullough
U.S. Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2010-03-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1