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Terrible news if you've been a fan of the in-your-face horror options presented thus far (See Halloween, Drag Me To Hell, and Identity). More along the lines of Absentia, but with a grander, more classic tone, The Eclipse is at its heart a romance. A romance with horror as its backdrop.
Set in the rural landscape of Ireland, the atmosphere is haunting without even trying; it's a natural gray. Reminiscent of Nosferatu or a Casper David Friedrich painting, the layering of clouds, empty fields, and gravestones are what gives The Eclipse the environment it needs to birth truly frightening entities.
When Michael Farr (played by an equally stoic and emotive Ciaran Hinds) begins seeing ghosts, it's out of the blue. Along with an orchestral soundtrack, complete with operatic moaning, his visions are bound to knock you out of your seat. But the most striking thing about Michael's ghost isn't its hideous looks or insidious desire to pull him under: it's that the ghost is his father-in-law, a man still very much alive.
Eclipse, Darken, Cease to Exist
When two stars or planets eclipse, one temporarily obscures the other. One body darkening the next, two entities briefly passing over and through. This is the metaphor The Eclipse seeks to find between the dead and those they've left behind.
Michael's wife has passed. Recently, we're led to believe. His father-in-law now in a home, he's been left to raise his two children alone. To pass the time, he continues on with his hobby of nearly two decades - volunteering at the yearly literary festival.
A ghost, malevolent or benign, passes through the space of the living on its way to another plane. In the film, it's ghost story author Lena Morelle who explains this idea to Michael. To her, the siting of a ghost causes the haunted's brain to split in two: one side screaming in fear, the other denying its reality. That moment, says Lena, is a moment where reality ceases to exist. It collapses. Or in terms of an eclipse, it obscures all other things.
That's a profound thought. And amidst some of the most gut-wrenching night terrors and moments of shock, the film spends most of its run time contemplating it. That's the kind of slow build I like - on that pieces together its own philosophy of horror, piece by piece.
Slow Build, Slow Burn
If you're not the patient type, these kind of slow-moving psychological horror films can be a challenge. But in my experience, it's these rather poetic scripts with minimal scares that make for maximum terror. The Eclipse accomplishes the kind of fright that can only be achieved by lulling an audience into safety.
When you feel your most secure - that this is a romance, that it is light, that all is at peace - is when the ghosts are set to strike. So is the life of Michael Farr; wishing to see his wife, instead seeing ghastly visions of a father-in-law who is not yet dead, but hanging in the balance.
The best part of The Eclipse? I'm tempted to pick a particular shock in the car. But it's very clearly the least terrifying moment in the film; Michael's reunion with his wife is both earned and terribly sad. For those needing one final scare, don't worry. It's awkward angle won't leave you feeling safe for a moment.
And you shouldn't really - ghosts are everywhere, you know.
The Fun Stuff
Aidan Quinn plays a real prick. A real departure from his Practical Magic days.
Lena is played by Iben Hjejle - the infamous Laura of High Fidelity.
It really is fucking funny when Michael falls into that ditch in the field. Really.
If You Like It, Watch:
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) - I'll never stop singing the praises of Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski or the magic that is their version of the classic German horror film. In terms of a horror film based on romance and atmosphere, it doesn't get any better than this. Read my review here.
Don't Look Now - If Irish ghosts don't shake you up, maybe visions of a dead little girl in Venice, Italy will do it for you. That red macintosh will haunt you days later. Read my review of the Nicolas Roeg film and watch the Criterion version if you can (the remaster is gorgeous).
The Uninvited (1944) - Lewis Allen directs Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey in an incredible looking haunted house film from 1944. The romance may be a bit dated, but the effects are way ahead of their time. And the black and white seascape is the perfect atmosphere for lurking ghosts.
Pontypool (Click for trailer)