Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Eclipse


Review by Eoin O’Faolain

There’s more to Irish myth than just leprechauns. Indeed, we have many rich mythical creatures detailed in our traditional tales, from faeries to headless spirits to one of the more well-known examples: the banshee, who appears to you the night before a nearby death. But it has been a long time since these figures have been represented in Irish cinema. Perhaps it’s because the banshee stories have been done to death, and because Darby O’Gill ruined the leprechaun, or perhaps that type of storytelling has been eradicated by the cheap thrills of “gotcha” jolts in horror films. So it’s refreshing to see Irish cinema return to a traditional ghost story with The Eclipse, written and directed by established local playwright Conor McPherson.

Set in a scenic town in Cork during a literary festival, Michael (Ciaran Hinds) is a recent widower who must take care of his two kids as well as his aged father, while also acting as a driver for the festival’s most celebrated guests, Lena Morelle and the arrogant Nicholas Holden. But as Michael grows closer to Lena, he finds himself tormented by strange encounters with supernatural figures.

If The Eclipse is successful at one thing, it’s in portraying the unbearable drabness of Michael’s life. Here is a man who has given up on his ambitions, reduced to a relative dogsbody, and when he attempts to move on he’s tormented by spirits and visions. Not only does Ciaran Hinds give an excellent performance of a man who is evidently holding everything inside, but there’s something effective in cinematographer Ivan McCullough’s, painting the pretty seaside town of Cobh with a sense of pale steeliness that evokes the inner isolation of Michael. In moments of beauty the landscape seems restrained, and in moments of horror the mood is kept clinical yet disturbing.

However, for all of the visual panache the film falls flat in its storytelling. By acting as a sort of traditional ghost story, the film attempts to convey the ghosts as part of Michael’s psyche. In other words, the ghost is a metaphor for his inner conflict, that of maintaining the status quo of his miserable and stoic existence versus the possibility of taking a risk and moving on. In a sort of sub-plot, the apparitions also are a symbol of guilt, guilt not only for what happened to his wife, but also for the neglect Michael is bestowing on his father who sits in a drab nursing home. But the problem with this is instead of keeping in tradition and making the visions as things that lurk in the corner (of the room and his mind) we’re delivered a few standard shocks. In one scene Michael is driving in his car, only to turn to find a horrible (that said, this scene must be commended for its use of music, which starts as a melancholic choir piece but jolts into shrill screams) bloody figure scare the bejeezus out of him. In another scene a noise in a wardrobe draws Michael near, and you just know what he finds in there won’t be a cuddly teddy-bear. And these scary moments feel psychologically erroneous. Guilt does not translate into “gotcha” jolts. And when the final ghostly figure appears, the psychological arc from guilt to acceptance does not match the arc of from terrifying ghosts to the final, serene image (which I will omit to avoid a spoiler). 

Also, the bond between Michael and Lena is not entirely convincing, partly due to the performance of Iben Hjejle and partly due to the outstanding job the makers did of portraying Michael as so pathetic in the first place. It’s also worth noting that Aiden Quinn is superb as the self-obsessed writer Nicholas Holden, and this may well propel the actor back into the limelight.

Ultimately, The Eclipse is a step in the right direction of attempting to approach the origins of traditional ghost stories by prioritizing character over atmosphere, but sadly the film’s makers almost felt obliged to attempt to add a few jolts, cheapening the narrative and making the film feel like it’s not sure whether it’s a traditional or a contemporary horror story.

2 ½ / 5 stars

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