Acclaimed as one of the best Irish playwrights of his generation, Conor McPherson has earned his rep as a first-rate dynamo of the theater: He blesses his damaged characters with the gifts of gab and profundity, and in works like The Seafarer, the writer has brilliantly combined Celtic variations on psychological realism with supernatural elements. Which makes you wonder if there’s another Conor McPherson lurking out there, a filmmaker who coincidentally shares the name and obsessions of the Tony-nominated artist. How else to explain this surprisingly stillborn, tone-deaf drama that’s attributed to such a monumental talent? That, or some McPhersonesque apparition is playing a cruel trick.
Having recently lost his wife, Michael (Ciaran Hinds) works through his grief while shepherding a boorish best-selling writer (Aidan Quinn) around a local arts festival. The two compete for the attention of a female novelist (Iben Hjejle)—the middle-aged mourner passively, the asshole author aggressively—with the occasional vengeful specter spooking Michael in his sleep. (The only thing scarier than bloodied spirits are—gasp!—egomaniacal literary superstars.) Any subtlety that Hinds, an actor who already looks perpetually haunted, brings to his role is counteracted by Quinn’s gorging on scenery. But what’s worse is that, unlike McPherson’s stage work, The Eclipse never finds a common ground between the fantastic and the heartfelt. Such unintegrated flip-flopping between a muted character study and a horror flick relying on cheap scare tactics leaves you feeling mildly schizophrenic; it’s a movie whose meanings and points are as obscured as its title suggests.