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The Eclipse takes place at an Irish literary festival and doesn’t do much to dispel writer stereotypes: the quiet, hearts-on-their-sleeves kind alongside the drunken asshole. The latter in writer-director Conor McPherson’s drama is a best-selling author named Nicholas Holden, but he may as well have been called Easily Dismissed Conflict for all he adds to the story’s bottom line. Then again, without someone to act like a jerk now and then, the film would likely have gone into sensitivity overload and been much less palatable for it.
The central sorta-romance is between Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a novelist who’s a bit uncomfortable about the middle-of-nowhere place she’s put up in when she visits the small town hosting the fest, and Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds), a still-grieving widower who used to write but now is happy to serve as the festival’s driver. The stories that bring them together aren’t literary—they’re about ghosts. Lena’s encounter at a young age sparked a lifelong curiosity about the supernatural. Michael, meanwhile, is currently haunted: first it’s rustling and shadows in the middle of the night. Then things get noisier and the bloodied, black-eyed face of the spirit becomes clear. Michael has two young children he obviously doesn’t want to spook, so it’s a relief when Lena becomes his confidante.
McPherson, known primarily as a playwright, has delivered a film that feels very Irish: Just like the downpour that drops here out of clear if chilly day, Michael, Lena, and even Nicholas never completely mask the melancholy lurking beneath their politeness. Hinds, as always, is a charmer, and it’s easy to root for him and Lena. Then there are the frights—they may be infrequent, but they’re not small, and they never feel out of place. And you still have the heartbreaking closing scene, which should be noted as the correct way to drive home a tearjerker. Rarely has a horror film felt so tender.