The Eclipse tells the story of Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds), a teacher raising his two kids alone since his wife died two years earlier. Lately he has been seeing and hearing strange things late at night in his house.

Each year, the seaside town where Michael lives hosts an international literary festival, attracting writers from all over the world. Michael works as a volunteer for the festival and is assigned the attractive Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), an author of books about ghosts and the supernatural, to look after. They become friendly and he eagerly tells her of his experiences. For the first time he has met someone who can accept the reality of what has been happening to him.

However, Lena’s attention is pulled elsewhere. She has come to the festival at the bidding of world-renowned novelist Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), with whom she had a brief affair the previous year. He has fallen in love with Lena and is going through a turbulent time, eager to leave his wife to be with her. But all Lena is trying to do is extricate herself from this mess and just get through the next few days.

As the festival progresses, the trajectories of these three people draw them into a life-altering collision.

This hangdog relationship drama gives up the ghost.

In The Eclipse everyone, at first, seems to walk around talking in low tones. It’s a nice way to establish a mood of quiet desperation, of a time and a place where no one really seems to be in a hurry to get on with life.

The action takes place during a literary festival in a beautiful Irish town, the sort of hamlet, it seems where strangers take the time to stop and give detailed directions. Director, the famed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, spends a lot of his energy on establishing an atmosphere akin to a sort of lazy Sunday afternoon, the kind where the Northern light is bruising and low and the temperature is moderate, the kind just right for sinking into a good book (or a whiskey).

At first all this mood making seems to be in the service of an interesting, but rather sad eyed character study of a recently widowed woodwork teacher, Michael (Ciaran Hinds) a one time aspiring writer with a couple of kids and no dreams left. That is until the first ghost appears, and Michael is scared witless, his dignified veneer cracks. Then McPherson releases all kinds of cinematic Hell – the soundtrack splits under the weight of a zillion decibels, and there are not-quite subliminal flashes of tortured faces. As a technique it’s startling and immediate; like Michael we’re not quite sure what’s 'real’ or imagined and the suspense of the movie is all about waiting for the next apparition to arrive so we can decide.

Of course what The Eclipse is really about, isn’t ghosts real or imagined, it's guilt and grief. Michael gets the chance to 'let go’ in the way movies know best; by falling in love via a brief encounter. Lena (Iben Hjejle) is a bestseller author who has no problem at all believing in ghosts or things that go bump in the night, which, given the circumstances offers Michael a great deal of comfort. Her big problem isn’t paranormal, but very human, but does involve a haunting of sorts. She once had an affair with Aidan Quinn’s buffoonish novelist, Holden, another guest at the festival and he won’t leave her alone. In the best tradition of romance (and airport novels), confusion, mixed messages and a showdown between the blokes, only partially resolves the erotic possibilities.

Surprisingly, The Eclipse is neither as much fun or as silly as perhaps it sounds here. Based on a short story by Billy Roche, it basically a hang-dog middle-aged love story but McPherson directs it like he’s doing Pinter – the bland comings and goings of life are freighted with much meaning, but what’s missing is a felt sense of existential dread. Hinds, a fine actor, comes off as a gloomy fellow, a bad risk for the fetching Lena.

Apparently it was McPherson’s idea to make manifest the supernatural elements (they weren’t at all a part of the original). As a piece of cinema the horror scenes are striking, but since the rest of the movie is performed and shot in a bland and beautiful TV style it hardly matters. If anything The Eclipse is a bit like a BBC talk-fest inserted with very brief and very violent off-cuts of the sort of horror seen in recent Asian cinema.


1 hour 24 min
In Cinemas 15 April 2010,