The Eclipse is a character driven, slow-burn of a movie that, while certainly not straight horror, would have to be classified as a psychological drama with supernatural elements. An Irish production written and directed by Conor McPherson, it tells the story of three people and how their lives intersect over a weekend at a writer's festival in seaside Cobh, County Cork.
Michael (Ciarán Hinds), a wood-shop teacher, is a volunteer at the event, driving authors to and from various locations while still reeling from the loss of his wife to a long illness. He is raising their two children and has been experiencing what can only be called paranormal events at his home. He wakes throughout the night, plagued by unexplained noises and frightening (though mostly shadowed) apparitions. It has been taking a toll on him but he doesn't tell anyone, fearing they send him away in a straight-jacket. It's obvious he needs a friend to listen.
Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn, and the reason I chose the film in the first place) is an egotistical, self-important famous author who is the headliner at the festival. He's also a raging alcoholic apparently, with a jealous streak a mile long. He anxiously awaits the arrival of Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), an British author with her own book to promote - a book on the subject of ghosts aptly called The Eclipse. A year ago she and Nicholas shared a weekend tryst which he took a bit too seriously. He's married, and after meeting back up with Lena to try to rekindle the flame, she abruptly turns him down, scarring his fragile ego.
Instead, she strikes up a friendship with Michael as he shuttles her back and forth from her cottage to town. He serves as a tour guide around the town, and they end up in the cemetery where his parents (and wife but he lies about that) is buried. He then feels comfortable enough to chat with her about his strange experiences regarding the death of his wife and the unnerving feeling that she is still somehow haunting him. They two click, developing a friendship that clearly blossoms into romantic territory.
Things progress to the point that when Nicholas shows up drunk at Lena's cottage and finds Michael there, he flies into a jealous rage which ends up a punching match with all three involved.
The Eclipse isn't a high profile film, nor is it laden with excessive gore (though there is one moment of scarlet delight). It is a thoughtful, cautious look at a triangle of people just dealing with the knocks life gives them. How grief is dealt with is a very personal journey, one that is examined here with the greatest of respect. It doesn't pretend to be a straight out ghost story, but there are enough spooky moments that you cannot discount the direction the film leans toward.
There are more than a few scary moments here, and I have to say that in each one I didn't see it coming. While they may seem like jump scares intended to frighten (and they do), they fit in perfectly with the story and were not frivolous tricks. The director took his time unraveling the tale, adding tidbits here and there, working out issues and still leaving you more to marvel at.
Although all the actors were quite good, I found Ciarán Hinds to be an absolute revelation in his role as Michael. His performance is so understated, so genuine, that it nearly steals the show.
This film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in the spring of 2009, where it won Hinds the Best Actor award. It has won several other awards since its release and quite deservedly so.
It is however, marketed incorrectly as horror. There are some hints at horror, but really it's more of a drama slash ghost story. Naturally, the cinematography was top notch. How could it not be, with the beautiful Irish countryside and seashore practically characters themselves. They are a real draw to this film; the stark beauty of the sea against scraggly rocks always lending a macabre sense of dread, particularly at night, when a lot of this film's action takes place.
The Eclipse has a particularly vague yet satisfying ending. At first I felt slighted, as if they just didn't give me enough info, but then I realized the finale was perfect. It was restrained and quiet, and all the pieces of the puzzle were there for you to put into place however you see fit.
It did however, remind me an awful lot of the last five minutes of Sideways. The conclusive voice over and subsequent scene put me so much in mind of Virginia Madsen's final words in the critically acclaimed feature that it almost seemed to be on purpose. I assume it wasn't, but damn if it didn't make me want to drink a glass of Pinot.