Ivan Kavanagh’s grim and stylish horror thriller, The Canal, cleverly manages to subvert traditional genre tropes to leave its audience guessing throughout as to the true nature of the film. After becoming suspicious his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) is having an affair, David (Rupert Evans) follows her, only to discover he’s correct. Heading home distraught, he suffers what he believes to be a ghostly experience, and when Alice is found dead in the canal he begins to believe a malevolent spirit is responsible… and is now haunting him.
What begins as a fairly formulaic whodunit chiller slowly descends into a nightmarish mixture of reality and fantasy that reflect Paul’s own fragile psychological state. As he becomes more and more convinced, and obsessed, that his home is haunted by the spirits of a serial killer, he alienates anyone close to him and arouses the suspicions of Detective McNamara (Steve Oram). The central performance is both pitiful and desperate, with Evans thoroughly convincing as the slightly pathetic Paul who never seems fully comfortable in his skin even before his wife’s death. Put upon and considered weak by anyone who seems to come into contact with him, it is hard to fully empathise as you are never completely certain of what is the true nature of Alice’s disappearance.
The film’s focus on Paul is both its strength and its main weakness. Despite the lack of empathy generated it is an engaging performance, but, apart from the underused Oram, the rest of cast are little more than background clichés and as such are almost inconsequential. Kelly Byrne does the best she can with the frightened nanny role that requires little more than some frightened screaming, and Hoekstra’s Alice looks guilty of infidelity from the moment we are introduced to her. This inconsistency unbalances the film somewhat, but the oppressive tone is consistent, aided by a colour palette that is striking in being almost monochrome. There is also a question over the route that the main plot takes once more of the mystery is revealed. Equally, the final scenes feel a little “neat”, as if decided more by necessity than preference, with the film becoming a little predictable in the final stages. That said, there is a terrifically dark sting in the tale.
The Canal is a rare thing, though; it is a film that possesses the ability to both frighten and disturb its audience, with any violence and horror being both unexpected and gloriously macabre. Kavanagh’s film takes a premise similar to that of Sinister and strips it back to basics, drains it of any Hollywood grandeur, and the result is a film that is intense and frightening without seeming to try too hard.
THE CANAL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: IVAN KAVANAGH / STARRING: RUPERT EVANS, HANNAH HOEKSTRA, STEVE ORAM, ANTONIA CAMPBELL-HUGHES, KELLY BYRNE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH