22nd Aug2014

FrightFest 2014: ‘The Canal’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rupert Evans, Steve Oram, Hannah Hoekstra, Anthony Murphy, Kelly Byrne, Anneke Blok, Calum Heath, Conor Horgan, Carl Shaaban, Sinead Watters, Alicja Ayres, Paddy Curan | Written and Directed by Ivan Kavanagh


The quiet brutality some people can suffer in everyday life is an aspect the horror genre doesn’t play up all too often. While horror films about zombies, chainsaw wielding killers and other assorted nasty folks are ten-a-penny, horror resorted in more “ordinary” troubles are rather more rare. The reason for this is fairly obvious, many audiences do not go to the cinema to be reminded of the misery which can come from real life and the more excessive the horror, the less real it can feel. The Canal is a film which seeks to bridge this gap, focusing both on a man going through some very real emotional difficulties while also delivering on horror elements we’ve seen many times before. For the most part though, it works.

The overarching feeling of The Canal is one of the antithesis of empathy. Rupert Evans’ David is a nice enough guy who loves his wife and child and he is very ordinary. This is something that fits Evans, an actor I only remember as the studio-enforced “normal” character in the first Hellboy, he’s a likeable enough presence but he doesn’t have much more to him, which feels appropriate here. Despite all of this though, almost everyone around him is cruel in some sort of way. Be it Hannah Hoekstra’s Alice, David’s wife, Steve Oram’s cop character who comes into the film part way through or Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ Claire, a long-time colleague of David’s, no one seems to really listen to what he’s saying and just make their assumptions. Some of this is comic, Oram in particular relishes his ball-busting role, but it all adds to a psychological build towards a horrific end which David just wants to break out of.

To say too much about where this story goes would ruin a fair bit of the enjoyment but it is also safe to say that the film’s narrative tends to cherry pick elements from other stories. Aspects of psychological horror such as Don’t Look Now or The Tenant and more straight up scare films like The Ring and Sinister come into play here and this does lead to a sense that sometimes the film is going through the horror motions, especially in a middle section where the sense that we’ve seen this stuff done before does set in. However, there are standout sequences here which stick in the memory. An encounter in a decrepit public toilet amps up some vivid imagery and some sound design of interest and a Ring-esque encounter also bubbles along nicely.

This all pales in comparison to a last ten minutes which slaps you around the face and makes you take notice. The film’s combination of the everyday and the supernatural combine to make an underground confrontation which shows something its safe to say isn’t expected before giving us a final sequence which is all the more frightening for its absence of any shock scares, instead ending the supernatural aspect of the story with a very real world and upsetting incident which certainly affected this viewer.

The Canal is not a perfect horror film but it’s a pleasure to see a horror film, supported by both the Irish Film Board and the Film Agency for Wales, which knows it wants to disturb as well as jump scare. If the actual narrative was as effective as some of the individual sequences are here, we’d have one for the ages. As it is, we’ve got a very good horror and that’s no bad thing at all.

**** 4/5


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