The Eclipse is an effective example of why the whole concept of genre often fails to accommodate the nuances of expressive culture. It could only be called horror on the basis of a handful of jump scares and a supernatural premise that is just a backdrop for an at times viscerally-awkward human drama (by which I mean there are one or two moments that are so plausible and so socially uncomfortable that seeing them makes you wince, even though the most horrible thing about them is the embarrassment they make you and the characters feel).
The film is full of wonderfully Irish images–and I use the term Irish unproblematically. I know what I mean by it, so if it seems too big or too stereotypical or too uncritical, it’s because it’s simply my private understanding of Irishness, based on my experiences there. Sitting on a bench on a city street, a cannon and a cathedral in the background, eating a 99–this is a uniquely Irish moment, close to but distinct from similar moments elsewhere in the world. It’s the kind of scene that might not even seem particularly relevant if you haven’t eaten a 99 in Ireland, but if you have, it’s likely to make you smile in recognition (not that 99s are particularly good, but in principle, it’s an effective image).
The supernatural being that makes a few brief appearances is a fetch, an apparition that, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time in horror films per se. The scares, when they come, are exclusively jump-scares, but they are mercifully few and inserted at such random moments that the tired device becomes effective again. The jump-scares actually enhance the dramatic and mildly tragic atmosphere of the film by sheer virtue of their tonal contrast with everything else that’s going on. When the main character, Michael (brilliantly played by Ciarán Hinds), is standing outside a hotel smoking a cigarette in one scene and an undead arm shoots up from the ground to grab his leg, the conceptually jarring quality of the supernatural intrusion–more than the shock itself–throws Hinds’ characters’ “real” problems into stark relief.
The supernatural element here is always fading into the background, and the jumps are its feeble attempts to reassert its presence in the lives of characters who simply have more important things to deal with. Like most good horror (and again, I don’t think that label really applies here), the supernatural element is ambiguous. Its reality or lack thereof is refreshingly beside the point, however. The issue here is with letting go of the past, or choosing to allow it to continue invading the present. This is by no means a novel theme, and plays on the concept of “haunting” in a way that smacks too much of postmodern scholarship for my taste; but its exploration here is brilliantly straightforward and empty of heavy-handed symbolism.
This is a good movie. Not just a good Irish movie, but a good movie. See it.