Unlike certain other recent “romantic horror” films (this even shares the title with one’s upcoming sequel) Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse takes time to develop its characters, which not only makes the story far more interesting, but also allows for the scares (which, to be fair, are fairly limited – more on that later) to really work; I must admit I got jolted twice, whereas I’m usually amazed if they can get me once.
The film concerns a would-be writer (Ciarán Hinds) who volunteers for the annual literature festival in a seaside town in Ireland. He gets directly involved with two of the authors: a celebrity novelist played by Aidan Quinn, and a horror novelist (Iben Hjejle), with whom Quinn had a one night stand with some time before (and wants to continue the affair). So yeah – it doesn’t exactly scream horror, but that’s actually what makes it work. There are only five attempts at scares in the entire movie, two of which made me jump and one (the first) just plain creeped me out. And the reason they work so good is that the love triangle plot was compelling enough for me to keep forgetting that there was a horror element to the proceedings, catching me off guard.
Now, because the focus is on the romance/character study, “horror and nothing else” fans will probably hate the film (expect to see the word “boring” thrown around a lot if you read any reviews). The horror elements are never really expanded upon – don’t look for a scene where Hinds fights the ghost or digs up town records in order to find a bunch of exposition, because it’s not there. All of the ghost appearances are the result of his character’s guilt manifesting itself. For example, the first couple of “appearances” seem to be of his (still living) father-in-law, who is in a nursing home and was left behind when the festival began (Hinds forgot to pick him up). Most movies would just have this sort of character flaw play out in a normal way – Hinds would realize his error and call the guy to apologize, or drink, or whatever. In this movie he gets pulled into the ground by a bloodied arm (whether the apparitions are real or psychological is never explained, nor does it matter). But they never go beyond that – brief but largely successful scares that help reflect the character’s state of mind.
Hinds is terrific in the film. He’s in all but one or two scenes, and those non-Hinds scenes suggest that the film will be a complete study of all three characters, but ultimately the film is solely about his character’s grief (his wife died before the film began – hence why he is in charge of looking after his father-in-law) and how he tries to put himself out there after living in borderline seclusion for so long. It’s a sad portrait (Quinn provides the film with its few moments of humor), which could border on depressing with a less appealing actor in the role, but Hinds makes it not only watchable, but enjoyable. You really feel for the guy and want him to break out of his shell.
My only quibble is that they suggest some stuff and never really develop it into a meaningful plot thread. Hjejle’s character writes ghost novels, and they sort of suggest that she, like Hinds, is haunted by apparitions as well, but never go beyond that hint. Granted, the film is about Hinds’ growth, but it seems odd to bring it up and not do anything with it; she could have just as easily been a romance novelist for all the purpose her horror background serves to the story. I guess we can assume that Hinds takes an interest in her because he thinks she can help him understand why he is seeing these things, but she’s also a very attractive woman in his age group (not that he fawns all over her), so I don’t think anyone in the audience would think much of it if they struck up a friendship without any supernatural-based connotations. Then again it’s also an incredibly short film (88 minutes), so maybe there was more to it and it was cut to keep the focus on Hinds (and again, keep the audience from thinking they were watching a traditional horror movie).
Magnolia is putting this one out, which means it will probably debut on VOD at the same time as its theatrical release. I’m sure it will play just as well at home (I doubt it will be playing in more than a handful of screens across the country), but if it IS in a theater near you, see it that way. Magnolia has consistently released interesting genre fare over the past few years, and I don’t want them to abandon theatrical releases due to everyone simply watching them On Demand.