THE CANAL (2014)
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Irish horror flick finds film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) about to become a father and buying a new house with his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra). Five years later, things take a turn for the worse as David catches his wife cheating and sees police archive footage from 1902 revealing a grisly murder that took place in his very house. He starts to see things, too and when his philandering wife turns up dead, an apparent accident, in the nearby canal, David finds the area has a history of gruesome deaths. The canal has held many bodies and that a shadowy figure may be responsible…or is David simply loosing his mind due to his recent emotional traumas? Either way, his son Billy (Calum Heath) and nanny Sophia (Kelly Byrne) may be in grave danger, but is it from some supernatural force…or David himself?
Writer/director Ivan Kavanagh tries really hard, but something is simply missing from this psychological/supernatural thriller. I never found myself connecting with the distant David even before his troubles begin and despite some spooky visuals, the film never chilled me or spooked me until, literally the last 10 minutes. Too little and too late. Kavanagh gives his horror a dreadfully slow pace and Evans’ emotionally detached performance keeps you from caring or bonding with the character and even in the film’s third act, where things really start to come unglued, at that point we are too distant from the story and events within to really care or be emotionally invested. Is there something supernatural haunting David and the area he lives in, or is he creating delusions to suppress his anger, sadness and possible guilt over his wife’s infidelity and death? We really don’t get involved enough to care and this greatly diminishes an effectively creepy ending. At least Kavanagh leaves us with a little bit of a chill before the credits roll. Maybe a little more time should have been spent with David and Alice, so the shock of her adultery and the impact of David’s pain sunk in better, or perhaps Ivan Kavanagh should have been less obvious with his borrowed horror trappings, such as long haired female ghosts, scratchy old film footage and powder on the floor, ala Paranormal Activity. Either way, the film just never grabbed me like it should and I never felt any strong emotion in the storytelling. It’s a decent effort that never really achieves what it sets out to, despite a director who does seem to have some skill in what he does. He just needs to work a little harder at getting us to become emotionally involved in his stories, so his visuals aren’t without weight.
As for the director’s work with his actors…as said earlier Evans, gives a very detached performance. Even before things start to get weird and go wrong, he just seems off and that alienates us from really clicking with him from the beginning. Hoekstra is pretty as Alice, but also seems a bit off, so her infidelities come as no surprise either. The real star is cute little Calum Heath as their five year-old son Billy, who sticks with dad no matter how crazy he gets. There is also a sympathetic turn by Antonia Campbell-Hughes as David’s caring co-worker Claire and cutie Kelly Byrne does a nice job as Billy’s terrified, but loyal nanny, Sophie. Steve Oram rounds out as a cop who just comes off as a smug douche. A mixed bag performance wise which implies Kavanagh needs to either strengthen his relationship with his performers or trust their instincts a bit more. One would have to be an on-set observer to decide which it is.
What can I say? There has been a lot of positive buzz for this flick, but it didn’t grab me. Director Ivan Kavanagh is a competent filmmaker and has a nice visual style, but there is an emotional detachment to his characters and his directing that keeps one from really getting pulled into the story and deeply effected by his scenes of horror. He seemed to finally get things together in the last ten minutes, or so, but that is far too little and too late to really consider this a totally successful flick. We’ve also seen a lot of the elements before and used more effectively. Check it out if you are curious. It has it’s fans, so it may work for you, but The Canal left me cold for the most part and adrift in it’s waters of indifference.
A generous 2 and 1/2 movie cameras circa the 1900s.