Director: Conor McPherson
Starring: Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn
Cinematographer: Ivan McCullough
Studio/Run Time: Magnolia, 88 min.
Romance flickers in a literary ghost world
Ciarán Hinds flexes one of the great hangdog faces in movies. Over the past 30 years, he’s been a favorite of your favorite auteur (Peter Greenaway, P.T. Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Michael Mann). But he’s not confined to arthouse fodder—he’s also starring in the final two Harry Potter flicks. And unlike his endless London theater roles, Hinds isn’t always center stage on the screen. But The Eclipse gives the resourceful, empathetic Irish actor an intimate, offbeat drama to carry on his shoulders. And as gravity pulls hard on the existence of his character, a widowed father and unsuccessful writer living in a fog-shrouded village, the actor’s ability to convey soulful depth sustains a delicate and tricky premise.
Written and directed by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, The Eclipse is, technically, a horror film: Hinds’s Michael Farr is haunted by terrifying visions of bloody, howling, undead creatures. His elderly father is wasting away in a nursing home, and he’s also never really gotten over his wife’s death. Amid all this, he volunteers for the local literary festival, which brings him into contact with both an arrogant novelist (Quinn) whose bestseller is being made into a Hollywood blockbuster, and the sensitive Lena (Hjejle), whose supernatural fiction strikes a chord with his own experiences.
As might be expected, since there really are no other substantial characters, events lead Farr into a tentative romance with Lena (who vibes on his melancholy, poetic manner), and into intense conflict with Quinn’s hotheaded lush, keen for a rematch after a brief fling with Lena, whose repeated rebuffs fall on deaf ears. Quinn’s performance is as overplayed as his co-stars’ are subtle, though from personal observation at many an authorial gathering I can vouch that his boozy womanizer wallows in a very familiar stew of grandiose self-regard and insecure desperation. His character makes sense as a dramatic engine, and provides a good bit of comic relief amid all the moon-eyed spirit talk, but is equally distracting.
The heart of this piece lies in the gradual revelations shared by Hjejle’s and Hinds’s literary loners, whose occult interests are more metaphysical than FX-driven, unless you count the breathtaking (and occasionally spooky) seaside vistas. The film’s grown-up sensibilities, tempered pace, and articulate dialogue are exactly the sorts of things people used to associate with the letters “BBC,” which isn’t damning effort with faint praise. Considering the state of filmic romances these days, when Hollywood can only crank out Jennifer Aniston rom-coms or Nicholas Sparks weepers, the thoughtful, quietly measured pleasures of The Eclipse return the genre to the world of real adults. (And even better, in the otherwise cerebral / soul-searchy context, the jump-scares are worthy of George A. Romero.)