Conor Mc Pherson’s The Eclipse brings together two distinct genres: that of the ghost story and the human drama. Mc Pherson has had success as a screenwriter with I Went Down, and as a writer/director with Saltwater: an adaptation of his own play This Lime Tree Bower. The ghost story, however, is probably the trickiest of genres. Show too much and you run the risk of laughter instead of fear, underplay it and people wonder why you bothered. It is this line and the audience’s attitude towards it that determines your success and overall Mc Pherson walks it quite well.
The Eclipse begins with a literary festival in Cobh, Co. Cork. Woodwork teacher Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds), still recovering from the death of his wife a couple of years before, is helping to chauffeur writers around the town, and it is here that he comes into contact with the other two lead characters - brash American author Nicholas Holden (Aiden Quinn) and horror writer Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle). Subsequently it becomes clear that the two writers have a romantic history together despite the fact that Nicholas is married. Michael is experiencing some disturbing nightmares which he thinks may be real and he starts talking to Lena about them. These conversations bring the two closer together much to Nicholas’s annoyance. Michael tells Lena about the nightmares in which his father-in-law appears and is desperate to find out what they mean. He eventually finds out in a quite shocking sequence. All the more disturbing by how subtly it is played.
The Eclipse is a film about the approach of death and how to deal with it. It is seen in Michael’s face when he lingers over the photographs of his wife. It is also seen in the visits to his father–in-law who is old and in a care home. ‘Don’t let them put you in a home Michael’ his father-in-law gravelly tells him, the pain of losing his daughter etched on his face. The use of the town of Cobh, with its old graveyards and its church seemingly towering over the people, adds to the eerie feeling within the film.. The use of Cobh is a superb choice and it is shot very evocatively with a seemingly perpetual mist hanging over the harbour.
In terms of horror and ghosts the pacing and use of frightening moments may not be enough for a generation who have watched films like the Scream series or the recent influx of Japanese horror (which scenes in this film are influenced by). The Eclipse is a determinedly old fashioned tribute to carefully constructed moments in horror films. The use of sound helps create this, firstly with a hypnotically repetitive piano score and also through silence. It cannot be underestimated how important and under-used silence in horror films is today. In The Eclipse Mc Pherson masterly uses it to quite devastating effect but true horror fans may be left wanting more.
The acting is good across the board with Hinds using a rare leading role to showcase his talents. His grief is very believable without resorting to shouting about it. There is a scene in his bedroom near the climax of the film that is both silent and beautiful and it showcases how much of a talented and restrained actor Hinds is. Quinn is convincing as the obnoxious writer but the part is perhaps written as too much of a cliché. Iben Hjejle is great as Lena and one wonders what she has been doing since she was last seen in High Fidelity.
Overall The Eclipse is a curious mix. It is a meditation on grief and a ghost story in one. It may not be to everyone’s taste but for fans of well paced, old fashioned ghost stories their patience will be rewarded. It is available to buy on DVD.