Opens Fri., April 9
Subtlety is a virtue too often missing from cinema. But is there such a thing as being too subtle? Let’s say, to the point where one is not entirely why a film exists?
Such is the strange case of The Eclipse. The Irish film is being touted as a horror film, and there are bloody ghouls who occasionally—very, very occasionally—pop out from nowhere and give us Japanese horror-style boos, so The Eclipse assures itself easy categorization on video shelves—er, Netflix pages. But, the thing is, 98 percent of the time it’s a moody, hushed, well-acted, well-shot, well-observed character study with only the most vague intimations of something spectral going on. I’m not talking the suggestions of horror a la the great films of producer Val Lewton— Cat People, The Leopard Man or I Walked With a Zombie—where the monsters are off-screen. The horror in The Eclipse feels like either an element that wound up dialed down during the writing process or, more cynically, was a late addition to give it some shape or marketability.
The terrific, ubiquitous character actor Ciarán Hinds (Munich and Rome) gets a rare, well-earned moment in the limelight as Michael, a widower and would-be writer who has settled comfortably into everyday life. The closest he’s come to his dreams is the literary festival that has swooped into his scenic County Cork town, for which he has agreed to serve as driver for dashing, successful guests. These include London author Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity), who grows attached to Michael, particularly as she’s stalked by her ex, a pompous and destructive American writer (Aidan Quinn, relishing the chance to chew scenery and much else).
This love triangle is keenly written, filled with sneaky truths and terrific acting. It’s just not enough to justify the film’s existence. That’s where the ghosts come in. They seem to come directly from Michael’s past and Hinds, with his wide mouth and eternally hesitant demeanor, epitomizes the word haunted, in every definition. The actor has never been put to better use, and he, along with his fellow actors and the whispered tone maintained by writer-director Conor McPherson, all suggest a lot is gong on. There isn’t, and The Eclipse seems curiously pointless by conclusion—a lot of grace notes with no real drive. But give these people a more meaty genre hook next time and look out.
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