Ghost stories don’t come much more subdued than Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse. Then again, movies as a whole don’t come much more subdued than The Eclipse, a film of almost perverse quiet and unrelenting understatement. The volume only rises above a hushed whisper during Aidan Quinn’s somewhat hammy performance as an egomaniacal author trying to seduce fellow writer Iben Hjejle during a writers’ festival in a small Ireland town where the sky is perpetually grey.
In a rare and welcome lead performance, veteran character actor Ciarán Hinds stars as a widower and father who has sublimated his literary dreams into driving around writers for his hometown’s writers’ festival. In this capacity, Hinds ends up transporting superstar writer Quinn and Hjejle, who had a history with Quinn but is understandably reluctant to restart an affair with a married man of dubious moral character. Hjejle is increasingly attracted to Hinds, whose quiet dignity stands in sharp contrast to Quinn’s juvenile self-absorption. A deep fog of grief and sadness has enshrouded Hinds since his wife’s death, so when he begins seeing ghosts, he seeks out horror author Hjejle as an expert on the subject.
The Eclipse alternates between long, lyrical stretches where very little happens, and staccato bursts of J-horror-style supernatural shocks. A strange, muted cross between ghost story, middle-aged romance, and character study of a quiet man in mourning, The Eclipse works best as a showcase for Hinds, whose beefy physique and waxy, strangely sinister features tend to preclude lead roles, especially in moody romances. Hinds and Hjejle (whom Stateside audiences might remember as the female lead in High Fidelity) have terrific chemistry as two lost, lonely souls who find comfort in each other for a brief idyll. Though The Eclipse travels a sleepy route to a shrug of anticlimax, it’s refreshing to see a film acknowledge that life and love don’t end at 50, even in the outsized shadow of a soulmate’s death.