The Canal review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The indie horror scene has been exploding lately with creative and crafty filmmakers that really know how to create true terror that cuts deep. I’m relieved that today’s horror talent is finally starting to make more personal and psychological pictures on the terrorized family. A family should not just be mere bowling pins that a director can use for his bucket of horror tricks. It’s no fun watching a pin get knocked down. But when a concerned father becomes grief stricken at losing his cheating wife and raising his child, there’s a reason to care for the people on screen when ghosts and murder is involved.
Director Ivan Kavanagh wraps us in from the beginning with interesting characters to follow. David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist who tries to engage a field trip of students by relating his work to watching ghosts. Little does he know that he’ll soon be eating those words when he runs across some old footage of a murder in his very house from a century ago. But before we get to all the scares of spooks that can only be spotted through film, let’s establish the psychological angle. David, a dedicated father to his child and loyal to his wife, suspects that the woman he loves has been cheating on him. His suspicions are correct as he follows her to a construction site where she is being ravished by another man. He picks up a hammer in anger, but leaves in disgust before they see him. Vomiting at a dirty public toilet, a sinister voice whispers to David from the dim darkness. The last thing he spots before blacking out is his wife being attacked by another man.
He comes to the next morning to discover his wife is missing and soon discovered dead in a canal. Now, of course, a mystery follows from such an earthshaking event, but it’s treated with real emotion as opposed to just being a plot stepping stone. We see David’s look of shock and enraged disbelief when the body is discovered, the soundtrack silenced of all voice and ambiance. A funeral follows where the related family is deeply depressed by the passing of such a woman, but hold a silent distance towards David.
Suspected by the cops for her death that was ruled as an accident, David becomes obsessed with tracking down the true killer. His path leads him towards archival footage where the ghosts that dwell within his home begin haunting David relentlessly. He starts hearing strange sounds behind the walls and digs through the drywall and brick hoping to prove he’s not crazy. Of course, nobody well can hear what he hears, but a select few can see the shadowy figures he captures only on camera.
This seems like familiar territory, but Kavanagh spins this twisted web better than anyone else. Psychological terror is much more effective than the usual batch of haunted house scares. Both of which play out beautifully as David descends into madness trying to protect his name and his cute son. As he slowly starts going down the hole too deep, he makes some futile attempts of intelligently removing others from the equation. He sends away his son with the nanny to a hotel, but when he checks in on them from a webcam he notices the ghosts have followed his little boy. Everyone is now scared around David including himself for when he finally makes the shocking discovery about the true killer. It’s probably not going to be a surprise for anyone who can piece these films together, but it’s still so masterfully assembled and shockingly revealed that you lose yourself in its artistry.
The Canal is first-rate horror with a chilling plot, eye-catching cinematography and scares that really get under your skin. It’s slow when it wants to be moody and intense when it wants to shock. It’s often hard to watch at times, but I absolutely love that feeling when a horror film gives me true goosebumps rather than manufactured jumps. Director Ivan Kavanagh blends a few different styles of horror together that turn out much better than one might expect. The end result is a movie that leaves the viewer gripping the edge of their seat right up to the final shot with genuine surprise and dread.