Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // July 15th, 2010
If there is life after death, love lives on.
"When you see a ghost, something very interesting happens. Your brain splits in two. One side is rejecting what you're seeing, because it doesn't tally with our ordinary idea of reality, and the other side is screaming, 'But, this is real!' And, in that moment, reality itself is collapsed and reconfigured in a way that changes you profoundly, although at the time, you're not aware of it." -- Lena Morelle, reading from her book, The Eclipse
Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds, There Will Be Blood), a recently widowed shop teacher, volunteers at his small town's annual literary festival. This year, he is tasked with driving around Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle, Defiance), an author of supernatural literature. When they start to hit it off, Michael sees an opportunity to tell someone about the terrifying things he sees when the sun goes down. As he starts to bare his troubled soul, however, another writer and true jackass, Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), who had a brief affair with Lena some time ago, comes back into the picture and tries to take her away before Michael has a chance.
The supernatural in The Eclipse is used more as representations of grief and guilt rather than with any real horror purposes. Director Conor McPherson (Saltwater) throws a few effective chills into the mix, but his ghosts set mood and build atmosphere rather than deliver shocks. Like The Sixth Sense without a silly twist, this is a character drama laced with spirits. These specters influence the minds of those who can see them, but they don't affect action directly. Instead, they stand for unfinished business and regret without representing forces of evil or good. Like their living human counterparts, some are bitter and violent while others are kind, guiding forces, but each has a message for those who can see them.
In this case, all the messages are directed toward Michael, whose regrets are two-fold. His wife's slow, painful death from cancer still weighs heavily on his soul. He can't sleep and he's distracted by thoughts of her. There was little he could do to help her, but it doesn't change the fact that he thinks about her final days constantly. Michael's trouble with his father-in-law compounds this. He lived with the family until the death of Michael's wife, but they stuck him in an old-folks home as soon as she passed. Left alone for days on end, he has become bitter and angry, and has given up on life. While Michael regrets leaving him there and can see the old man's sorrow, he makes no attempt to do the right thing, even though his guilt over it is overwhelming. With these guilty thoughts on his mind, Michael starts to feel a presence in his home and have strange dreams. He doesn't truly believe in ghosts, but he has a hard time denying what he sees. His assignment to Lena gives him the opportunity to talk to somebody who might understand. When there's a spark, he sees the possibility of something more between them.
In one short weekend, Michael finds renewed hope that he can move on with his life, but in comes Nicholas Holden as a barrier to his happiness. Holden is the kind of guy that gives arrogant writers a bad name, and boy is he easy to hate. After luring Lena to the festival under false pretenses, Holden tries to force his way back into her life; without regard for Lena, Michael, or his own wife. The heart of the film is this triangle, and it has very little to do with ghosts. Holden has no connection to the spirit world at all and Lena is someone who will listen to Michael, but doesn't see the ghosts herself. Whether the ghosts are real is irrelevant; until he gets beyond the things that make him see them, his life will remain frozen.
While the story in The Eclipse works well enough, the film is lacking in drama. The occasional ghost scene adds some tension, but without these, there isn't that much going on. Michael is the only one of the three we get to know on anything more than a superficial level; the writers represent missing aspects in Michael's life, but don't have a lot of humanity on their own. This would be a problem if the performances were lacking, but they are simply outstanding. Ciarán Hinds is one of the best character actors working today, and in the lead, proves completely capable of holding a film on his shoulders. His rough exterior barely contains his sensitive soul; this is fantastic, emotionally resonant work. Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn are not to be outdone, however, and both are great in their supporting parts. Hjejle is a strangely distant romantic foil, a little cold but still likeable. She acts very much like a writer who has spent too much time in an office writing about ghosts. Quinn plays somewhat against type as Holden, a gregarious writer and a nasty drunk. He thinks he's charming, funny, and he uses his name to bully people around. It mostly works for him, but he proves himself a loathsome, hateable person at every available turn. The three work great together, displaying a level of tension in their chemistry that doesn't exist in the plot. No matter how thin the story feels, they're impressive and make the film well worth a recommendation.
Though it's light on extras, Magnolia Home Entertainment's Blu-ray disc for The Eclipse performs brilliantly all the way around. The image, in an odd 2:1 aspect ratio, looks absolutely beautiful in Hi-Def, with no detectible defects at any point. The interior scenes are crisp and clear, but nothing that special. The exterior scenes, however, feature eye-popping detail. The Irish landscapes look gorgeous, with amazing detail deep into the horizon and perfect clarity throughout. In a scene as mundane as a ferry ride, the separation between boat, water, and land is impressively realistic, and simply stunning. The thick shadows are contrasted perfectly with the foggy, dingy colors to fill out this fine transfer. The 5.1 DTS audio mix is not as great as the image, but it is still quite strong. The film isn't flashy with its sound, but each speaker gets a healthy workout. The dialog is always clear and bright and, in those rare scares, we're treated to some very nice spatial effects that really help sell the shock.
The supplements are far too light, and what's there isn't terribly special. All we get are two making-of featurettes, one short and one long. The short one is from the HDNet cable channel, called A Look at The Eclipse. It's a very cursory look at the film, something that might entice you to see the film if you caught the promo on television, but it's totally worthless after you see the film. The second is an informative, straightforward behind-the-scenes look at the film that is too short and not good enough. The Eclipse is a very strong film, and if nothing else, a commentary would be more than welcome.
The plot may be a little sparse, but the performers in The Eclipse more than make up for the lack of drama. On Blu-ray, it looks and sounds great, and this is certainly the version I would watch.
Review content copyright © 2010 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.00:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R