MOVIE: The Eclipse (2009)

I read about this film a few months ago and have been eager to see it ever since.  Eager, but not eager enough, apparently, to actually KEEP TRACK OF IT.  Doy.

As it turns out, while it has yet to be released widely to theaters, it was playing in Seattle last week during the 2010 Irish Reels Film Festival.  OOPS.  When I realized I’d missed it, I shook my fist at the sky and cursed my stupidity, then I Googled it to see when my next opportunity might be.  Lo and behold, it’s available for pre-theatrical release streaming at Amazon.com!   Wicked.

The film is about a would-be writer, Michael Farr (played by the great Ciarán Hinds — adore him), who, as the story opens, is helping to organize and run his small village’s annual literary festival.  There are two writers at the festival that are of interest to the story: the first is Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), a novelist and insufferable snot; the second, ghost story writer Lena Morelle.  Nicholas and Lena have a history together, a one-night stand history, and one of the reasons Nicholas has come to the Cobh Literary Festival this year is to try to convince Lena to come back to him for real.  Unfortunately for him, Lena has absolutely no interest in this idea.  In fact, she can’t stand him.  For reasons that become clear about thirty seconds after we meet the man ourselves.

Michael, on the other hand, is a recent widower with two children, struggling to come to terms with his grief and move on with his life.  That grief is compounded by the fact he’s now responsible for taking care of his likewise-grieving father-in-law (whose name I’ve forgotten, so I’ll just call him FIL for short).  The first night of the festival, Michael forgets to pick FIL up from his retirement home — he just forgets.   Perhaps not so coincidentally, later that same night Michael sees his first ghost.  A ghost who, oddly, looks just like FIL.  Who is not dead.

Hey, that’s weird.

The next day, Michael is asked to pick Lena up for her reading at the festival and the two meet for the first time.  Michael attends the reading and is intrigued to discover there that her genre of choice is ghost stories.  When she later invites him in for a drink, he can’t help but ask her if she really believes ghosts exist.  Her immediate response?  “Why — have you seen one?”

As the festival progresses, Michael and Lena become friends.  But the ghost of FIL continues to plague him, eventually going from a simple apparition walking across the hall to a terrifying, blood-covered monster who tries to pull him down through a hole in his closet floor.  (The few ghostly scenes in this film, by the way, are successfully scary as hell and a couple of them truly startled me — no mean feat!)

Meanwhile, Lena is struggling to deal with Nicholas, who has grown more and more aggressive in his desire for her.  The three characters bounce off each other in scenes here and there until finally Nicholas and Michael come to blows over Lena.  Then the next thing we know, the festival ends, everybody goes home, and the movie is over.

What’s interesting about The Eclipse is that while it bills itself as a ghost story, it’s really not about the ghosts at all.  There are only about four “scary” scenes in this movie, and they’re all over fairly quickly — they simply don’t appear to be the point.  Instead, the story seems to be more about people and emotions.

And that’s where I ended up having a bit of a problem with it.

This film seems decidedly undecided when it comes to its own goal.  Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to make a story about relationships, grief, guilt, love, and loss that also happened to have an element of horror to it.  I think the aim was to keep the story focused primarily on Michael, and to make a connection for the viewer between the ghosts he’s seeing and the haunting guilt and grief in his own mind.

But the problem is, the only reason we end up with a sense of Michael’s emotional complexity at all is because of Ciarán’s exquisite acting abilities.  Without his masterful facial expressions and softly pained tone of voice — if a lesser actor had played this part, in other words — we would’ve gotten very little sense of that character at all. And that’s despite the fact he’s in nearly every scene of this film.  He’s not given much to work with, but even worse, there are simply too many elements of this story that should’ve been explored more and aren’t.

For example, Lena is a ghost story lover and writer.  Yet, she and Michael only have one conversation about ghosts and it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  For someone who purports to love the subject, she shuts Michael down very quickly when he tries to talk to her about what he’s been seeing (she claims she finds the rental house she’s staying in too creepy for such discussions, but it felt more like the writers simply weren’t sure what to do with the scene).  There could’ve been an interesting connection made there — a bonding over their own apparitions, an exploration of their respective hauntings.

On the opposite side, the relationship between Lena and Nicholas felt over-explored, extraneous, and pointless.  Why was that in there wasting precious space to begin with?  Just to show that she’s desired by even the smartest, most successful of pricks?  It wasn’t necessary; the added friction wasn’t needed, and I mostly found Aidan Quinn’s presence distracting and unsatisfying.

The film is very short — less than an hour and a half — and I think it could’ve benefited a great deal from an extra thirty minutes spent shoring up a few of the characters’ personalities and relationships.  Instead, it feels like it’s over just as it finally gets rolling, and I left this movie wanting more.  More about the ghosts.  More about the grief.  More about where Michael’s mind was taking him.  More, more, more.

It left me wanting.  Because IT is wanting.

Nevertheless, this is still a very intriguing and unusual picture, and it’s beautifully filmed and very well-acted to boot.  If you get a chance to see it, I’d definitely recommend that you do so.  I’m hoping it comes back to Seattle soon for a real theatrical release, as I’d like to see if it works better on the big screen.  Stranger things have happened, after all.  It might change my tune entirely.  Who knows.

Recommended.  Sort of.  I think?  Yes.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer | Rent (streaming) at Amazon.com]

Genre:  Drama, Horror
Cast:  Ciarán Hinds, Aidan Quinn, Iben Hjejle, Jim Norton

Tags: , , ,

4 Responses to “MOVIE: The Eclipse (2009)”

  1. Richard Harland Smith Says:

    I will see this. Been digging the Hindsmeister ever since PERSUASION and even watched him in RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN.

  2. megwood Says:

    I think the first thing I ever noticed him in was The Weight of Water (which I liked very much, personally). Persuasion was the clincher, though. I confess I did NOT see Race to Witch Mountain. Should I? Definitely thinking he needs to be a Boyfriend of the Week, so maybe that’s mandatory.

  3. zini Says:

    You’re lucky you got to see it. I read a review in the Trib and then go to the movie section to pick a show time and it’s not even playing. Actually it was playing at an art house 25 miles away…at a single 2:30 showing or some such nonsense. I was going to write the reviewer to call him out as a stinkin’ tease, but I put the movie on netflix instead.

    Any way, you want haunting, I’m gonna share it again: I HIGHLY recommend George C. Scott starring in The Changeling.

    Also, have a book recommendation. My daughters and I all just devoured The Hunger Games, taking about a day and a half each. Literally couldn’t put it down and it’s a Young Adult book! It’s the first in a trilogy and we’re fighting (in a kind of unlady like way, I might add) over the second book, Catching Fire. Third one’s out in August and that’ll be ugly too, as we’ll have had to wait for it.

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    […]MOVIE: The Eclipse (2009) «[…]…

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