Monday, October 25, 2010

Path of the Eclipse

A few months ago, some friends and I asked ourselves the question of "where are the Irish horror movies?" The Eclipse (2009, directed by Conor McPherson) seems to be an answer. It's a ghost story and a romance and it's more interested in its characters than it is in providing shocks, but a horror movie it is. Well, maybe it's not exactly a horror movie, so much as it's a haunted movie, and to my mind, that's good enough.

The story here concerns Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds), a woodworking teacher and failed writer who is tasked with driving a famous horror novelist around during a literary festival. Michael is recently widowed, manfully holding the rest of his family together, and seeing terrifying visions in the still watches of the night. The horror writer is Lena Morrel (Iben Hjejle) who carries baggage of her own to the festival in the form of fellow writer Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), with whom she previously had a short, intense affair. Holden wants to rekindle it; she does not. Michael and Lena strike up a friendship--and a subdued "more"--much to Holden's consternation. It's a nicely observed relationship.

The hauntings that plague Michael might be real, I suppose, or they might be a part of the healing process. Either way, they operate symbolically and give what might be a quaint "small" film a serious kick. In spite of this, the most frightening thing in the movie is a fistfight near the end that seems more like an actual fistfight than any movie fistfight I can remember. The film presents it's various horrors matter of factly, so that when other, less horrifying ghosts appear, the audience, like the characters in the movie, can take them as something they'll have to live with. It's an interesting balance.

The lead actors here all have familiar faces, but they're not exactly famous. Iben Hjejle was John Cusack's girlfriend in High Fidelity, but she seems less of an ideal and more of a person in this movie. Ciarán Hinds memorably portrayed Caesar in HBO's Rome; it's hard to imagine a character more different than Caesar, but Hinds is terrific as the subdued and immeasurably sad Michael. Quinn used to be on the edge of stardom, but seems to have settled into a life of character parts. His character here is kind of a monster, but he's human enough to be pathetic, too. Horror movies rarely have actors this good, but, as I say, horror is only a secondary consideration here.

The filmmakers underplay most of this, content to let the scenery and the light of County Cork do some of the heavy lifting. It's a good way to lull the audience into complacency for when they inject the horror. These scenes are more effective for contrast, even if they're standard "jump" scares. In some ways the horror scenes are unworthy of the movie, but they are necessary to the film's character arc, I guess. It seems odd for me to complain about the intrusion of horror in a movie that is ostensibly a "horror" movie, but this is kind of an odd duck of a movie, neither fish nor fowl. It's good, but it's not what you might be expecting.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 25

First Time Viewings: 25

1 comment:

DeAnna said...

I enjoyed The Eclipse, but like you've mentioned, it seemed some of the elements were at odds with each other. This was a movie that I really wanted to like much more than I actually did and very little of it stuck with me.

But I was bothered all movie that Ciarán Hinds reminded me of someone that I couldn't put a finger on. He's Sam the Eagle! I'll never be able to watch anything with him in it now, because Hinds is a muppet.