A screenplay caught between pools of blood and emotional healing, “Eclipse” cannot make up its mind any more than can its ambivalent characters
Lead actor Ciarán Hinds walked away with the Best Actor Narrative Feature award at last spring’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York for his corker of a performance in this haunting drama of connection after death. Hinds plays recently widowed Michael Farr. Farr decidedly is not himself as he tries to raise his two young children. In fact, the kids seem a good deal more together than Michael, who has vague aspirations to be a writer but can hardly address an envelope.
The setting is the town of Cobh in County Cork, Ireland, and is about as Irish as Irish can be. Cobh is on the southeast coast of the country, surrounded by soft and sloshy inland lakes and a saltwater sound. The mist is so thick you can taste it, the kind of mist that brings the spirits out of the ground. It is exactly what writer/director Conor McPherson was looking for in this film about the supernatural.
Most of the shots are old, dark wood interiors with plenty of steep dark stairs and musty closets. The windows are small-pained and clouded over like bad memories being shut out by overwhelmed emotions. Faces are black silhouettes in the night, devoid of feeling and personality. The sounds of walking are accompanied by well produced creaking floors and squeaking doors. The music is what one would hear standing outside the pearly gates waiting for admission and the feeling is that you are not going to get in.
Michael volunteers to help out at a literary conference held in the small town and ends up driving two authors here and there. One author is the attractive and sensitive Lena who writes modest stories about supernatural spirits (played by Danish actress Iben Hjejle). The other is best selling hack author Nicholas Holden played by Aidan Quinn. Michael is still shell-shocked from the death of his wife but he finds himself being drawn out of his funk by Lena. Unfortunately the olympically loutish Holden has an on-again off-again affair with Lena and she appears to be under his sway. Holden himself has considerable sway since he is drunk all the time. When do drunken writers find the time to write?
On top of all this Michael’s deceased wife’s father is on his death bed, too, and is bitter about his daughter’s death as well as being bitter about Michael’s inability to accept that death and move on. This set-up continues to darken as night spirits roam the dank, wet, creaking halls amidst pools of blood. The very walls reach out to grab the frantic Michael as he slowly loses his ability to distinguish truth from fiction and reality from dreams.
The race is on, love against despair, with the lives of Michael and his children in the balance. As Michael mumbles vague questions to Lena attempting to get her take on the apparitions that are driving him insane, Nicholas jumps around in the background like the devil incarnate.
A well-intentioned allegory of good versus evil, the problem is it is half horror and half healing. It is hard to see what kind of audience would appreciate both. The emotionally healing love story appeals to older adults who have been through the wringer a few times. But will that demographic thrill to the bloody hand coming up though the flowerbed and grabbing your ankle while you are pruning the rhodies? Are the pools of blood necessary? Are American writers that loutish?
The main selling point of the film is its success in creating a mood and its background of the wonderfully soft Irish inland sea. The occasional bursts of horror are well done but they don’t reinforce the over-riding nature of the screenplay. Should be two separate films, one with mists and hands grabbing up out of the soil and one with a man finding his heart.
Directed and Written by: Conor McPherson
Starring: Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn
Release: March 26, 2010
MPAA: Rated R for language and some disturbing images
Runtime: 88 minutes