Sitting in an empty theater, a film archivist watches the grainy footage that will be his undoing. David and his wife are perfectly happy – or so he believes. When he finds out the home he shares with his wife and son was the scene of a ghastly turn-of-the-century murder, David dismisses it as ancient history. That is, until the sinister history ripples into the present and casts a shadow over life as he knows it. And when a looming secret shatters his marriage, David can’t help but suspect the dark spirits of the house are somehow involved. In his drive to unveil the shadows hidden in the walls, David begins to descend into insanity, threatening the lives of everyone around him. Through ghastly imagery and a chilling score, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal is an Irish ghost story that will leave you with a fear of the dark and a dripping chill down your spine long after the film’s conclusion.
Whilst the title ‘The Canal’ immediately brings back memories of Rosie & Jim on their canal boat to my mind, this film is anything but child friendly. This horror film is both refreshing and familiar, based in Ireland it had a much more authentic feel to it rather than say a big budget American horror movie. The setting, story and presentation of the events here make for a chilling tale that will grip you from start to finish.
The film was one of two halves for me, the first half focused much more on the drama element whilst the second half was definitely more horror based. This division and contrast worked really well, it allowed the viewer to properly get to know particular characters and understand their motives and feelings. I probably enjoyed the first half more as it very cleverly just allows you to become attached to certain characters and you genuinely care about them which is rarely the case for horrors in recent years. The cast are largely responsible for this, as they portray their characters very well. The central performance of Rupert Evans was the highlight for me as he confidently plays his character, David, presenting an interesting and engaging character who was perfect to carry the main role of a film like this. The rest of the cast also contribute positively towards the film and the overall atmosphere of the events, each playing off each other in an easily believable way and enhancing the feel of reality that the film carries.
The horror isn’t just jump scares, which we have come so accustomed too. There are a variety of tools and techniques used here to evoke terror amongst the audience. The fact that David, the films main character is a film archivist lends itself well to seeing this horror on the big screen as there are several scenes in the film set in the cinema, this created another level of terror as the viewer is in the exact same setting! Sound is used brilliantly here too and like other horrors in the past things as simple as doors closing or the zipping up of a coat can fill you with dread. There are a couple of rather shocking moments which play on other elements of horror, such as gore and disgust, these were used well and added variety to the film but never too much to make it seem silly or ridiculous.
However, the finale does suffer from a few issues that potentially undo a lot of the good work that has been done creating a high level of horror as the film proceeds. Of course the finale needs to expand on what has come before it and The Canal is no exception but it lacks in something, originality maybe or even a consistency in tone. In a way the finale was the least scary section of the film which is an odd way to end things. Although this was only a small criticism and it was actually nice to be able to watch the finale and discover the fate of the characters instead of cowering behind an article of clothing which is often what I find myself doing.
Ultimately I was rather impressed with The Canal, it reminded me in a few ways of last years The Babadook, which can only be a good thing. The Canal was creepy and scary in a lot of different ways but it wasn’t afraid to take its time in building this tension or investing time in its characters. This worked very well in its favour. The element of mystery that was present also gave the film another dimension which I hadn’t really seen before which was a very nice touch. So after last week’s horror release, Unfriended, and now The Canal you horror fans are really spoilt for choice. The Canal is definitely a more patient and at times understated horror but it has most certainly has its more horrific moments too which makes it a really interesting and engaging horror film and easily one of the best we have seen in the last few years.