Abertoir 2014 Review: The Canal (2014)
In a sub-genre that’s been mostly dominated with jump scares and found footage, a truly spine-chilling ghost story has been hard to come by these past few years. Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal is a breath of fresh air, returning to the old school style of haunting films where less is more. The Irish independent production that deals with themes of family breakdown, paranoid horror and dark secrets manages to get it right. It’s the scariest film that screened during this year’s Abertoir line-up and a standout amongst the films that incorporated a serious tone.
The Canal centralizes on married film archivist and father David (Rupert Evans). After living peacefully in his nice house with his young family for the past five years, David’s world is turned upside down when his colleague Claire (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) presents him with some unsettling film reel that reveals a murder took place in his house around 1902. To add to his woes, David is suspicious of his wife Alice’s (Hannah Hoekstra) behaviour. Whatever she’s hiding is the catalyst that sets off a series of horrendous events that alters David’s life forever. In this psychological drama, David must protect his adorable young son Billy (Callum Heath) and come to terms with his own personal demons. Is there a malevolent spirit lurking in David’s house? Or is it something even darker?
It’s difficult not to reveal too much regarding the film’s plot as each surprise that unfolds on screen provides a jaw-dropping experience. The Canal is a slow burner, which works well as it takes its time to develop David as a strong and layered character and his relationships with those around him, his son, colleague, wife and the babysitter. As an audience we garner plenty of empathy for him and care about him as the protagonist so that when ominous and enigmatic events take place we’re on board with him for the entire time.
Rupert Evans’s performance is striking. He portrays David with both likeability and vulnerability making his story especially compelling. The relationship between him and his five year old son Billy comes across as naturalistic, enabling us to invest in them. Callum Heath is one of the sweetest child actors in any horror film, his delivery is believable and he’s perfectly cast as the innocent child unaware of the chaos surrounding him, allowing some truly heart-breaking moments.
A highlight performance comes from Steve Oram (Sightseers) in the small role of police detective McNamara. Oram attended a funny and insightful Q&A at the festival explaining that the back to basics style of horror attracted him to being part of the film. His character is deadpan and highly suspicious acting as a foil for David.
What works in The Canal’s favour is its genuinely creepy, the tension is constantly high and the frightening moments come in unexpectedly. As stated it doesn’t rely on loud noises and jump scares to generate fear in its audience, it remains suspenseful by gradually revealing the twists and turns to a satisfying effect. In some respects its reminiscent of the classic ghost story The Innocents (1961) in the sense that it easily gets under the skin or an Irish version of Sinsiter (2012) (as me and Caitlyn discussed in our Ghostface Girls Video, see below) but done slightly better. It’s atmospheric, beautifully shot, with intense lighting that echoes the giallo sub-genre. The old film reels used to signify David’s discovery of the previous horrors that occurred at his home look authentic adding to the macabre tone of the film.
Kavanagh has created a disturbing, memorable and traditional ghost story with plenty of twists to keep up interest. If you’re going to watch one haunting film this year make it The Canal, it is guaranteed to linger in the mind for a long time and make you sleep with the light on!
Hayley Alice Roberts