Review: The Canal

Film archivist David is  him a reel of to-be-archived footage that shows that his house was the setting for a brutal murder in 1902. Becoming more unsettled and unhinged, David begins to believe that a spectral presence is in his house and ends up following his wife to a nearby canal.

Dark atmospherics collide with a ‘Sinister’-esque element of “found-found-footage” in ‘The Canal’, a supernaturally tinged Irish production from director Ivan Kavanagh. Strong performances bolster some neat direction and a superbly cultivated atmosphere of mounting dread here, and the end result is something genuinely and resolutely impressive.

In the film’s beginning, film archivist David (Rupert Evans) is wrestling with his mounting suspicions that his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) is having an affair. Overcome with paranoia, he follows her one night to investigate, and while his fears are confirmed, he chooses not to act in the moment. However, when Alice turns up dead soon after, events soon begin to escalate. David becomes preoccupied with a pattern of murders that occurred near his home and a nearby canal years previously, and as police suspicion about the murder begins to centre on him, ‘The Canal’ charts David’s descent into instability in harrowing, unnerving fashion.

The film scores many of its points in its superbly maintained “nightmare” atmosphere. As David’s behaviour becomes increasingly unpredictable and the visions that haunt him become ever more harrowing, ‘The Canal’ balances the darkness at play both inside and outside his head in a way that keeps the plot moving without “breaking the spell” of its wider effects. While the “apparition” scenes occasionally feel a little redundant or unnecessary, the overall tone never falls below unnerving.

With an ending that poses as many questions as it answers, it’s a fitting end to one of the year’s more unusual horror entries. Its slow-burn won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a film that rewards patience, and will likely offer more answers upon repeated viewings. Occasionally terrifying and never any less than superbly creepy, ‘The Canal’ is a left-field gem.

I expected great things from The Canal. People had me believing in the hype, telling me it was affecting, one of the creepiest films they’d seen. I regretted missing it at Fright Fest the other year, and there was nothing but love for it after the screening. This is not the film I watched. I no longer trust people.
After the suspicious death of his wife, film archivist David (Rupert Evans) begins to suspect that the answer to her death lies in the secrets of the house he lives in. To be fair, this synopsis is intriguing, and it certainly had me interested…..that was until I watched it. A whole lot of nothing happens for a very long time, then a bit of something happens but it’s too little too late.
It’s evident that the makers were going for a haunted house thriller vibe, which is a great premise, but it just didn’t deliver. The acting was probably the thing that wound me up the most. Wooden, archetypical characters, like the naïve babysitter – who should have left that house at the first sign of trouble, why she continued to stay is beyond me! Also, WHY WERE HER PARENTS JUST LETTING HER STAY IN THE HOUSE OF AN OLDER MAN WHO’D JUST LOST HIS WIFE?!?! HE’S BEEN SUSPECTED OF MURDER FOR CRY SAKE! WHAT KIND OF PARENTS ARE THEY???) *breathes* Sorry about that. The small child who is fed lines and spews them out like a rehearsed robot, though to be fair, he is a kid – I can’t be that harsh. No caps lock rant for you small child!
The story was far too predictable, and throws ‘red herrings’ that are insulting to a seasoned horror watcher, but I’m not sure this was intentional – it’s probably just how I perceived it. To its credit, the effects are really good for the budget, but just summed up no suspense or terror for me, but props to the props department.
I know I’m probably alone in my view, but The Canal did absolutely nothing for me. It’s clear that a lot of effort was put it into the film, but my hopes of a creepy horror went down the toilet…..geddit? GEDDIT?

At last year’s Frightfest I made a rather controversial decision to miss Dead Snow 2: Red VS. Dead (to many people’s horror) in the main screen and replace it with Ivan Kavanagh’s creepy ghost story The Canal showing in one of the discovery screens. With a love for the supernatural ghost story it was an easy choice to make. Making its way into my top five of the festival, this eerie feature absorbed me from start to finish and at times proved rather creepy.

Film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) and his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) move into an old-fashioned yet stunning house by a tranquil canal with their young son. Everything seems too good to be true until David discovers that the house has a ghastly past and was privy to a murder back in the 20th century. Then, in a Sinister like fashion David uncovers some news footage of the events that took place and it starts to consume him. To add to that he discovers some shocking news about his wife and gradually begins a downward spiral into madness and disillusion when he believes this supernatural entity is harbouring in his home.

With enough twists and turns to keep you guessing beyond the credits rolling, The Canal inhibits parts of the genre while retaining an original quality of its own. Rupert Evans is superb as the central character and projects David’s gradual insanity well; while also giving us a glimmer of hope, that it might not all be in his head. Callum Heath is fantastic as David’s little boy Billy, who has to be one of the cutest child actors of late and a great little performer too.

There is something gritty and at times quite uncomfortable in this film that makes it stand out from the never-ending list of films of a similar nature that are usually somewhat forgettable. Kavanagh’s direction is bleak and eerie and the gloomy colour filters help build the dark atmosphere that surrounds the ghostly tale. What’s refreshing here is that the story gradually unfolds and there are enough jump scares to keep you going without everything suddenly being rushed in the last twenty minutes. Kavanagh manages to bring the supernatural subgenre back to its roots but go beyond the many found footage features of late and instead deliver something truly terrifying as one man’s insanity, but the real question is: is it real?

The Canal snuck into my favourite horror films of 2014 list very unexpectedly. Following the story of film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans), his murdered wife and the possibility his new home is being shared with a dangerous entity, The Canal kept me glued throughout its runtime and even served up a few genuinely creepy moments.

After finding his wife cheating on him and her body subsequently being found in the nearby canal, David discovers something similar happened a long time ago in the same place following the discovery of some old film footage. Shadows in his home start to appear sinister, creaks start to talk to him as we follow him potentially losing his mind. But the trick The Canal has over other films which go down the “he was crazy all the time” route is that it isn’t trying to showcase this as a last minute twist. The story continually plays with the is it/isn’t real aspect so you know there is either going to be a perfectly natural answer to it all or its something far more menacing. It doesn’t try and sell you on one thing and then twist it into something else, which I found really refreshing. However the film doesn’t necessary spoon feed you the answer and seems to want you to make up your mind on this point.

Rupert Evans portrayal of a man that doesn’t know if he’s being haunted or going crazy is chillingly brilliant and also sympathetic enough to keep you on board with him. As he discovers more about the past and the police suspicion on him being his wife’s killer grows, David becomes increasingly desperate and outwardly his instability grows. His increased desperation threatens his friendships in not only the terms of its bond but in terms of the safety of those he entwines in his breakdown.

The Canal can be slow paced at times but the rich characterisation of David actually suits the more meandering nature of the film. If it moved too quickly through the narrative you would lose the whole aspect of David’s potential spiral into insanity and be left with a more straightforward ghost story. As it is we are served up something more enticing than that and certainly a more intelligent piece of horror than most of the current mainstream fare. One certainly worth catching if you want something a little different but providing similar themes to that which you might catch at your local multiplex these days.


The Canal is out on DVD on 14th September 2015.




48 thoughts on “Review: The Canal

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