The Eclipse 

All of us are haunted. We are each visited by ghosts of past relationships, terrified by indiscreet skeletons rattling in closets and stalked by specters of lost loved ones. In writer-director Conor McPherson's (The Actors, 2003) new film, The Eclipse, a grieving Irish widower is confronted by ghosts both emotional and apparitional.

Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) is a wood-shop teacher and lapsed writer who volunteers at his seaside city's annual writing conference. As the festival begins, he starts hearing strange noises in his home and is visited by a decaying specter of his dead wife's father. But this paternal in-law hasn't crossed the great divide and is living just up the road in a retirement home. When Michael is assigned to chauffeur supernatural fiction author Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), the two find a connection, Lena having been visited by an Italian ghost as a young girl. But her trip to the festival is also haunted, this time by ex-boyfriend Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), a pandering novelist who hates his own hack writing. As a tenuous romance emerges between Michael and Lena, her past with Nicholas and his unresolved grief cast a pall over their budding relationship.

The Eclipse is a strange film, filled with foreboding interludes and odd anachronisms. Ireland's past is already rife with the ghosts of Catholic martyrdom and bloody warfare, and an oft-seen church steeple sharply reminds us of this haunting history. Although billed as a ghost story, this black little drama isn't just concerned with things that go bump in the night--although there are a few good ones. As hinted at by the title, the film's characters are entering a dark time just before the reemergence of sunlight, an emotional midnight filled with reflection and the search for redemption. The script, co-written by McPherson and author Billy Roche, would have been an interesting piece even without a haunting, but the addition of perceptible specters makes an exciting contrast to the ghostly ephemera of memory.

Hinds, one of Ireland's hardest working supporting players, is magnificent as Michael, his brooding physicality and bruised delivery carrying much of the film. American actor Quinn seems to delight in his send-up of self-loathing, while the Danish Hjejle gives a sharp showing as the assured, but still cautious Lena. The Eclipse's production team is also in fine form, with particularly good work by composer Ronan Hill. His use of elegiac piano music and requiem-inspired choral pieces both remind us of the funereal subject matter and also surreptitiously setup the next sudden fright. McPherson has a great eye, the Irish seaside town of Cobh providing gorgeous vistas and ghostly country roads. With an intriguing premise and heartfelt performances, The Eclipse is a smart drama that effectively commingles sadness and surprise.

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