The Eclipse

Horror-love story hybrid with Ciarán Hinds as the man literally haunted by grief

Colin McPherson’s dark romance The Eclipse contains visitations by ghosts, zombies and outreaching bloody arms, unexpectedly finding their place in a love story set against the backdrop of a literary festival in the seaside town of Cobh, County Cork.

Based on the short story 'Table Manners' by Irish playwright Billy Roche – which contains no reference to ghouls or ghosts, those are McPherson's additions - The Eclipse is a story that will not only surprise fans of the genre, but succeeds in breaking down conventions that plague braindead contemporary horror cinema. Ciarán Hinds (Munich, There Will Be Blood), is an inspired choice for the role of grieving widower Michael Farr, who finds himself haunted by eerie visitations, not by his dead wife as you might expect but seemingly by his father-in-law, who now lives in a nearby nursing home.

While volunteering at his hometown’s annual literary festival, Farr drives the visiting writers around to talks and book signings, providing himself with the opportunity to consult horror novelist Lena Morelle, played by Iben Hjejle (High Fidelity), on the apparitions.

'Can you see the ghost of someone that's still alive?' asks the worried Farr after seeing the figure in unexpected places. 'Maybe,' says Morelle. 'If that person is close to death.' Not knowing whether the visits are real or simply nightmares, Farr reaches out to Morelle, the only person who might take him seriously and perhaps save him from going insane. 'It's not like a dream, you can't explain it,' says Farr.

However, the real haunting we witness is the human drama that unfolds in Hinds’ understated performance as the lonely widower, seeking release from his burden of grief. Close-ups of Hinds' face tell us all we need to know about how lost Michael Farr is, silently struggling to look after his children alone. When silhouetted, we see the darkness within.

In contrast, visiting needy novelist Nicholas Holden - played in hilariously over-the-top fashion by Aidan Quinn - competes with Farr for the affections of Morelle, author of the book of the film’s title. Quinn delivers a superb performance as the angry, self-obsessed writer who eventually comes to realise how little the success of his books - even when made into films - translates into happiness in love and life. Quinn's humourous portrayal of Holden balances the jolting frights and further serves to make The Eclipse an enjoyable watch.

The main reason Holden has returned to the literary festival is to rekindle the encounter he and Morelle had the previous year. 'You told me that you and your wife were separated,' says Morelle of the hard-drinking writer. 'Well I've never been more separated from her than I was that night,' Holden says. As the festival progresses, the love triangle comes to a crashing collision.

The floating camerawork which follows Hinds and Hjejle on the otherworldly journey on the ferry over the water and on walks around Cobh, makes use of the town's stunning gothic architecture of churches and vertical high steps which provide the perfect scenery to set against a chilling choral score, composed by McPherson’s wife, Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin.

With the Catholic imagery of The Exorcist and ghosts that wouldn’t feel out of place frequenting the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, McPherson seems to want to return to the old way of horror filmmaking. He combines the creeping fear of Carpenter’s The Fog with the smarts and jolts of a George Romero flick. McPherson gives no easy answers. There is no digging up the floorboards to set the spirits free, or finding out exactly what the visitations are or what they want. This is a horror film for adults who don’t need everything sown up nicely in the end.

The Eclipse is a genre hybrid and as such might not appeal to horror buffs, but its grace and atmospheric beauty, combined with its character development are more than enough to open the book to a new chapter in the horror - or indeed romance - genre.

Belfast Film Festival events run until April 30.