film_TheEclipseWatch out for The Eclipse, an unusual and affecting hybrid of a movie from Irish filmmaker Conor McPherson. A finely limned character drama about a lonely widower and father slowly coming to terms with life, death, and grief, the tone is part magic realism, and part lyrical Irish folk ballad. It’s certainly not what you’d call a thriller in any conventional sense. And yet it contains two or three of the most frightening, jump-out-of-your-skin shock moments you’ll see in the movies all year. The story is set in the rugged, starkly beautiful coastal hamlet of Cobh, in County Cork, during an annual literary festival. The wonderful Ciaran Hinds play Michael Farr, a local woodshop teacher who has dabbled in story-writing and volunteers at the festival every year as a driver, ferrying visiting literati to and from events. Having recently lost his wife to cancer, Michael plays single parent to his teenage daughter and 10-year-old son, and looks in on his elderly father-in-law, incapacitated in a local nursing home. When one of his charges at the festival turns out to be British novelist Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a writer of ghost stories, Michael confesses to her that he’s been having some unsettling experiences that he thinks might be ghosts. She believes she’s had genuinely ghostly encounters as well, and as they discuss the nature of haunting and the meaning of loss (and begin to grow a delicate friendship), Michael’s visions become more urgent, and menacing. Adapting a story by Billy Roche, McPherson offers a shrewd study in contrasts; Hinds’ stoic Michael could not be more down-to-earth, and his daylight world of parenthood and his book festival duties is normal to film_eclipsethe point of banality (including a rude, snobby, drunken cad of a bestselling author played to hissable perfection by Aidan Quinn). But like Michael, the viewer fills with dread as soon as night falls and the visitations begin. Meanwhile, the modern world, with its cell phones, computers, and arcade games, bustles along under the shadow of the (allegedly haunted) Gothic cathedral on the hill—visible from every perspective in the town—always suggesting the presence of the otherworldly, in one form or another. This is a wistful, beautifully wrought tale that achieves something much more emotionally rich than your standard ghost story. Just don’t go home alone to a dark house afterwards. (R) 88 minutes. (★★★) LJ

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