STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• The Making of The Eclipse
• HDNet: A Look at The Eclipse
Death sucks. And then you start seeing ghosts.
Starring: Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Jim Norton
Written by: Conor McPherson and Billy Roche
Directed by: Conor McPherson
Michael Farr’s (Hinds) wife died two years ago and he’s been raising his two children on his own in that time ever since, clearly not yet moved on from the loss. When a writing convention comes through town, bringing a novelist (Hjejle) with a penchant for the supernatural, the timing couldn’t be any better because Farr has begun seeing a ghost. Only the ghost is of someone who is still alive.
“If you ask me if I’m on Team Jacob or Team Edward one more time, I will cut your head off. Plain and simple. I couldn’t care less if you’re my son or not.”
The Eclipse is the kind of movie that I usually want to like more than I do. From the synopsis and the snippets of critical acclaim plastered on the DVD box, I gathered that it was going to be a slow-moving, eerie character drama with a supernatural element — all very much my cup of tea. With a solid cast and an award-winning playwright behind the camera, it had loads of potential to be spooky and moving; although, let’s be honest: rarely do these movies truly work.
We’ve already seen our fair share of ghosts. We’ve already dealt with wounded people struggling to overcome the loss of a loved one. And somewhere along the line, the juggling of these emotions and the need to maintain dramatic tension through apparitions and unnecessary what-was-thats becomes too much for the filmmakers to handle and we’re left with hollow jump scares or yawns instead of goosebumps.
But then every now and again, the stars align. The various measures of romance, loss, regret, guilt, and solace manage to alchemize into something riveting, moving, and surprising. The Eclipse is the result of one of these moments.
“I came out of retirement for one last hurrah and I managed to pick the wrong Eclipse movie. Fucking figures. No way anyone is going to see this shit.”
One of the main reasons that this movie works where so many fail miserably is in the restraint by writer/director Conor McPherson. He jumps right into the ghost business within the first 10 minutes to:
- get it out of the way;
- establish that yes, it’s going to be this kind of movie; and,
- let the audience focus on the story and not keep wondering when the first real scare is going to pop up around the corner.
It’s masterful and something that more directors should think about when they’re tackling this sort of material.
And most directors would be lucky to work with material as solidly written as this. While there are jump-inducing scares and creepy, shadowy rooms and eerie moments accentuated by the out-of-tune piano on the soundtrack, there’s – dare I say it – soul in the script. McPherson and co-writer Billy Roche (based on his book of short stories) even give us an unlikely villain that almost seems to not really have a place in the main story line, yet it all ends up working. This is because they’re able to avoid the obvious and overdone conflicts and instead offer up honest portrayals that give us those subtle yet powerful moments that impact the characters — and us — in moving ways.
Aidan Quinn’s “I’m a serious actor, seriously!” face. It’s also the only face he can make to show how serious he is.
It helps that it’s anchored by the superb Ciaran Hinds in the main role of Michael Farr, a widowed father of two who begins seeing the ghost of his still-alive father-in-law. Hinds captures a man who keeps it all together for the sake of his family even though it’s clear that a part of him has died and may never be healed after the loss of his wife. He slowly develops a relationship with the writer Lena Morelle (played by Iben Hjejle — we have not seen nearly enough of her since High Fidelity), who is in town for an international literary festival, for which Farr is a volunteer. She’s writes deeply personal fiction that deals with the supernatural and Farr realizes that he may have found someone with whom he can truly relate, meanwhile Morelle finds a nonthreatening, oddly calming friend in Farr.
As with any character-driven drama, much of the conflict is actually internal. In this case, Farr has to absolve himself of the guilt associated with the death of his wife. But instead of simply having the characters tell us about how they’re feeling, McPherson and Roche smartly externalize the conflict into something tangible — yes, the ghost, but also the still-living specter of Farr’s father-in-law, who haunts the entire film and embodies Farr’s guilt. There’s more here than just sadness over loss.
“Wait, so you’re saying that I should bone John Cusack because you did after your dad died and everything turned out just fine for you? You really expect me to believe that?”
The only real gripe I have with the film is Aiden Quinn, who plays the pompous Nicholas Holden, a bestselling author who had an affair with Morelle sometime in the past and has been obsessing over her ever since. Quinn isn’t awful, thankfully, because he does play an important role. He’s easily hatable, which helps with the story because he’s a rather ugly character; but, unfortunately, a few scenes it’s so obvious that he’s acting that I was almost waiting for the director to yell “Cut!” and see Quinn exaggeratedly break character and passive aggressively demand his accolades for a masterful performance. Granted, he’s portraying a self-involved, overly self-important artist, so I suppose that could be what he was going for. I just couldn’t tell if he was acting like a terrible actor or if he just was off his game — and when that happens, I tend to think it’s the latter.
But with everything else that The Eclipse has going in its favor, that’s just picking nits. I highly recommend this one.
“I’ve SERIOUSLY got you in a serious headlock right now!”
It’s a gorgeous film to watch. Shot in Ireland, the scenery would almost be enough to give this movie a look-see. The two documentary featurettes are redundant — just one would’ve sufficed. But, it was worth checking out to hear about turning the short stories into a brand-new tale, not unlike how they did We Don’t Live Here Anymore from two different Andre Dubus stories — although, more successfully done here, I must say.
“Words… uhhhhh, heh. Words.”