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Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE ECLIPSE -- DVD review by porfle

"Ghost story" and "romance" are two types of films that can certainly be effective if done well.  And, of course, when you combine the two, as the makers of THE ECLIPSE (2009) have done, it can be doubly effective.  But since they didn't do it all that well, it's doubly ineffective.

As a ghost story, it starts out promisingly.  Ciarán Hinds plays Michael Farr, a lonely widower with two kids who helps organize a local literary festival.  Late one night he gets out of bed to glimpse a dark figure lurking around downstairs.  It looks like his elderly father-in-law Malachy, but a phone call to the nursing home reveals that the old man is in his room.  Later, as Michael is driving home on a dark country road one night, a shocking sight scares the bejeepers out of him and almost causes him to crash his car.  A final encounter with the specter, again in his house late at night, gives him (and me) another pretty good jolt. 

That's about it for the ghost story part.  There's a final attempt to scare us, CARRIE-style, late in the film, but it's so lame (and so beneath this film's dignity) that it had me thinking, "Ehh, nice try."  And one more ghostly encounter is played for wistful melancholy that's meant to make us misty-eyed.  These incidents are so isolated amidst the rest of the more mundane stretches of the story that there's no spooky atmosphere maintained, and no build-up to keep us on edge.  The movie doesn't really even seem to want to scare us all that much--I think we're just supposed to contemplate death and mortality and stuff--so those cheap shocks that pop up now and then feel a little out of place.

Meanwhile, there's sort of a half-hearted romance going on when Michael is asked to escort a visiting author, Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), while she's in town for the literary festival.  Lena writes about ghosts, having seen one as a child and experienced the shift in one's perception of reality which follows, and Michael is drawn to her.  Lena senses his feelings and responds, but is dogged by another well-known author, the egocentric boor Nicholas (Aidan Quinn), who wants to dump his current wife for Lena and is jealous of Michael.  After some pointless conflict between the two men, Michael and Lena form the basis for a gentle and mutually reassuring romantic bond.  Which goes nowhere.

THE ECLIPSE (the title is taken from Lena's current bestseller about ghosts) looks very formal and austere and the pace is quite stately.  This works well for such a low-key and unsensational story (save for those jarring shock cuts), with several shots being beautifully composed and much advantage taken of lush Irish locations.  Performances are good--Quinn actually gets to have some fun with his role, especially when he's drunk--and once you've settled into the mood of the film you may begin to anticipate an interesting and satisfying resolution to the events that have been developing since Michael's first ghostly sighting. 

Which is why the final freeze-frame comes as such a letdown.  The ghost story has been allowed to fizzle out to nothing, and the romance hasn't really ignited at all.  We're simply left with the possibility that something might happen later on in the future, now that Michael's uncertain feelings about his wife's death have been somewhat resolved and Lena has made a noncommital commitment to him.  As it turns out, the most insubstantial entity in the whole film is whatever lasting impression we're supposed to get from all this.

The DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment is in 2.00:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound.  Subtitles are in Spanish with English closed-captioning.  Extras include the featurettes "Making of The Eclipse" and "HDNet: A Look at The Eclipse."

THE ECLIPSE is pretty to look at, and fairly engrossing as you wait for it to eventually amount to something.  But as a story that's supposed to deliver as both a chiller and a romance, it's wrought so finely and with such subtlety that it's barely there.

Buy it at

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