Wouldn't it be so great to live forever in the domestic space at the beginning of a ghost movie or a serial-killer movie—those happy scenes whose sole purpose is to deepen the horror to come? It's always like a permanent tickle fight between lovers while pulled pork melts in the Crock-Pot and then the kids get home and they're all, "Dad, can we stay up late?" and Dad goes, "It's a school night, me laddie! Tomorrow's T'ursday!" (they're Irish) and then everyone laughs and hugs and snorts lines of pulled pork and then they all realize that—wait, it's not nighttime!—it's Christmas morning and everyone got a puppy that will never grow up (perma- puppy!). Then they all get eaten by ghosts, but we're overlooking that part. There is nothing happier than the calm before the ghost attack. I want to live there.
In The Eclipse, per the formula, things are going okay for quiet, affable widower Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds, one strategically placed feather boa away from being Sam the Eagle). He's still pretty bummed out about the too-young death of his wife, but he's a good dad, he trades loving banter with his kids (see "Tomorrow's T'ursday," above), the coastline of County Cork is both rugged and quaint, and the town of Cobh is gearing up for its annual literary festival at which Michael is a loyal volunteer. Then Michael starts seeing ghosts. Maybe. Gloom descends.
Michael's volunteer duties involve shepherding visiting authors around Cobh, including drunken American blowhard Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn, magnificently repellant) and Lena Morelle (the otherworldly Iben Hjejle), a very beautiful teller of ghost stories. As Michael escorts Lena—through colorless hotel banquet rooms, up and down the blackness of country roads—they discuss life and death and the irrationality of the supernatural, and feelings between the two ghost-obsessed singles begin to crystallize. (Because, obviously, the best defense against a ghost attack is another warm human in your bed.)
The Eclipse suffers from a certain aimlessness—our suspicion that it's all in Michael's head undermines the constant spooky atmospherics, and the ending trickles off with little resolution. The film's cloyingly repetitive choral/piano soundtrack (yeah, kyrie eleison, plink-plink-plink, we get it) feels like aural clip art. But you just can't look away from Hinds and Quinn, and, surprisingly for a quiet Irish drama about romance and death, the movie supplies some genuine scares. (You know why it's a horror-movie cliché for a rotting corpse arm to burst out of the silent earth and claw the protagonist's leg? Because that shit is fucking scary!!!) In the end, though, when Michael finally dreams up the ghost of his dead wife for a hard moment in the dark, it's fully clear that The Eclipse is not about the dead being among us. It's about how painfully not-there they are. Except for you, rotting corpse arm. Let the fuck go of my leg.