Erin Ghost, Brah

04/22/2009 4:00 AM |

The Eclipse
Directed by Conor McPherson

The Eclipse would be a great horror movie, if it were a horror movie. Noted playwright and stage director (cf. The Seafarer) Conor McPherson’s ghost-obsessed film includes a few surprising and truly unnerving scenes in which our hero confronts a cadaverous black-eyed spectre and deals with assorted thuddings in a creaky old house. But, unfortunately, these moments are few and far between; the bulk of the film concerns needling domestic dramas about a struggling single father caught in a love triangle with a couple of lovelorn writers (an irritating Iben Hjejle and a marvelous Aidan Quinn).

Set during a literary festival — which was totally meta, because it was screening at a film festival — in Cobh, a sleepy seaport town in County Cork, the movie follows Michael Farr (the severe-faced Ciarán Hinds), widower and festival-talent ferrier, on his gloomy misadventures. And I do mean gloomy: nearly every scene is shot in a backlit room, a shadow-blanketed exterior or a rainstorm.

McPherson handles the atmosphere proficiently; generally, he boasts a sophisticated visual sense, from gorgeous coastline panoramas to an elegant slow-motion tracking shot through a sun-soaked field. Even his use of music is clever: a polyphonic choir shockingly slips from an ethereal “Kyrie Eleison” into screams during one terrifying scene that accordingly slips in tone from (deceptively) middling to unbearably tense. (Really — I almost closed my eyes and asked the press or industry person sitting next to me to announce when it was over.)

That’s impressive, especially considering the recent lackluster film work of fellow Broadway contemporaries like John Crowley and Terry Kinney, who in their moviemaking insecurity rely too heavily on clichés both narrative and formal. So it’s disappointing that McPherson goes nowhere with his talent; bogged down in the romantic trials of a few bland characters, he fails to rise above the banalities he misguidedly embraces. (Drunk writers, philandering married men, grieving widowers, yawncetera.) Here’s hoping that, should his film career continue, McPherson abandons his pretensions as a chronicler of Irish melancholia — save it for the Great White Way, bub — and nurtures his gift for horror stories.

Remaining screenings are Tue, 4/28 at 9:45pm, and Thu, 4/30 at 4pm. The film is currently without a U.S. distributor, but this seems almost certain to change.