THE CANAL (2014)

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Cast: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Kelly Byrne, Steve Oram
RunTime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence & Sexual Scenes)
Released By: GV
Official Website:

Opening Day: 6 November 2014

Synopsis: Sitting in an empty theatre, 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.

Movie Review:

We don’t blame you if you were unimpressed by the title of this Irish ghost story - no movie that gives itself such a bland sounding name can hope to entice anyone who’s never heard of it. Notwithstanding, we decided to give writer/ director Ivan Kavanagh’s festival darling the benefit of the doubt; after all, the fact that it is getting a theatrical release despite not boasting any immediately recognisable stars must mean there is some merit about the movie itself.

And sure enough, ‘The Canal’ doesn’t disappoint. Its slow-burn low-key approach may test the patience of some viewers, but those patient enough to let this seemingly simple and unassuming story work its fingernails into you will find that there is plenty within to give you a good chill. But first things first, the titular waterway in fact refers to this murky body of water not far from where our protagonist David (Rupert Evans) lives with his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and son Billy (Calum Heath). It is also where Alice’s body will turn up soon after David learns of her having an affair.

As you may imagine, the narrative essentially teases its audience into wondering whether David is her killer or not, the latter suggested by the presence of a shadowy spectre which David observes lurking within the walls of his home. Preceding the tragic turn of events is David’s shocking discovery during his work as a film archivist of a gruesome murder that happened in his very house back in 1902, where a husband was found guilty of murdering his wife and their son after finding out of her infidelity and then dumping her body in the very same canal.

Carefully revealing his cards one at a time, Kavanagh succeeds in cultivating an unsettling atmosphere that gets under your skin. He gives just enough about the apparition to let you know what sort of presence it is, but not too much to diminish its aura of terror. At the same time, he works on your inherent suspicion of David’s culpability in his wife’s murder, particularly since he actually walks in on her having sex with a co-worker right before on the night of her demise. David’s job also contributes to some genuinely creepy moments, as he uses an old hand-cranked camera to attempt to document the apparition he has been seeing.

A skeptical policeman, a trusting co-worker and an increasingly terrified nanny represent the two sides of his fragile psyche - is what is happening for real or just a projection of his insanity - but the show generally rests on David’s shoulders. To be sure, it is Evans who carries the movie from start to finish, the British actor usually playing the part of the likeable rogue in costume dramas here relying on his natural amiability and a committed performance to win his audience’s sympathy. We feel for him even as we suspect that he isn’t as innocent as he thinks he is, which Kavanagh wisely reserves to reveal only in the final reel.

Indeed, these final moments deserve special mention. Whereas most horror movies tend to fizzle out at the end because you can pretty much guess what is going to happen, this saves its best for last, doling out a jaw-dropping climax that will literally have you panting. If you had been unimpressed or even frustrated by the coyness of the earlier scenes, we reassure you that these last few moments will convince you otherwise. Kudos to Kavanagh for daring to mount an unusually grim and disconcerting conclusion which stays with you long after the credits are over; it also ties in nicely with the initially puzzling prelude where David addresses a group of schoolchildren by looking right into the camera (at us, basically) and informing that just about everyone onscreen is now dead.

Perhaps because we approached it with low expectations, ‘The Canal’ surprised us with a dark brooding atmosphere and some truly frightening images. Yes, it does require some patience to get through a middle section where David’s sanity is tested little by little day after day, but what happens after is well worth your wait. As an indie horror clearly made on a much smaller budget than studio-driven titles like ‘The Conjuring’, it succeeds by being creepy and then by being all out disturbing, leaving you wondering yet again just what lurks in the shadows at night.

Movie Rating:

(Suitably creepy and unsettling, this low-key Irish horror takes a slow-burn approach to unspooling a series of nerve-wrecking scares right at the end)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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