Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #613
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Country of Origin: Ireland
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Producer: AnneMarie Naughton
Screenplay: Ivan Kavanagh
Special Effects: Aoife Noonan, Ben O’Connor, Perrine Pericart
Visual Effects: Ben O’Connor
Cinematography: Piers McGrail
Score: Ceiri Torjussen
Editing: Robin Hill
Studios: Park Films, Treasure Entertainment, Western Edge Pictures
Distributors: XYZ Films, The Orchard
Stars: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Steve Oram, Hannah Hoekstra, Kelly Byrne, Calum Heath, Anthony Murphy, Serena Brabazon, Maura Foley, Sinead Watters, Carl Shaaban, Alicja Ayres, Paddy Curran, Myles Horgan
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Mondkopf “Here Comes The Whispers”
 Mondkopf “The Stars Are Falling”
 Mondkopf “Eternal Dust”
I live in constant hope of a film truly nestling beneath my skin. So few can achieve this nowadays as there is a tendency to opt for scares of a more literal variety and this often lessens the impact considerably. The likes of Insidious and its copycat droves attempt to bludgeon us into submission with all too frequent glimpses of what lurks within the shadows of our subconscious, whereas genuine dread seems to be at a premium. This isn’t always the case and films like Scott Derrickson’s Sinister and Mike Flanagan’s Oculus have proved that less really ought not to mean less. However, if you’re looking to be unsettled, then the independent horror scene is where it’s at as less boxes need to be ticked in order to attract the crowds. I’m thrilled to report that Ivan Kavanagh’s fifth feature film The Canal happens to walk the line particularly well and, over a week later, I’m still struggling to shake its funk.
We spend the duration up close and personal with quietly spoken film archivist and proud father David (Rupert Evans) as he gradually unravels a mystery that he may have been better left unsolved. When he begins to suspect that his increasingly distant wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) is engaging in extracurricular activities, David’s perfect life begins to crumble around him. One night it all gets too much and he follows her, only to have his worst fears confirmed by way of naked writhing.
While duly shell-shocked by what he has just witnessed, he opts against unleashing his furious anger and instead slithers away undetected, before puking his guts up in a decrepit public toilet on his way home and passing out for the night. However,not before witnessing a sight that his mind isn’t best equipped to process under the circumstances. When his wife fails to return home that night, something doesn’t feel right and days later a woman’s body is fished out of the canal who worryingly fits Alice’s description.
As if being widowed wasn’t punishment enough, he also finds himself public enemy number one with straight-talking local beady eye Detective McNamara (Steve Oram) who, despite the autopsy ruling out foul play, is convinced that David knows more than he is letting on and wastes no time in turning the thumb screws. He is right too as David is holding something back, although not the kind of information that will help his cause as he can barely wrap his head around it himself.
Meanwhile, a vintage newsreel turns up at work that needs to be archived and involves a series of unsolved 100-year-old murders that played out along the canal and in his very home. The grieving process alone is placing tremendous strain on his relationship with his son’s young live-in Nanny, Sophie (Kelly Byrne) and this footage only serves to fuel his mounting paranoia.
As his behavior begins to grow ever more erratic, his colleague Claire (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), who clearly has unspoken feelings for David, soon picks up on it and attempts to breach the subject with him but to no avail. You see, even he is struggling to accept that a great evil is pent-up within the very bricks and mortar of his once happy family home and it has become an obsession to get to the bottom of it.
Regrettably, the evidence that his mind’s claim is bang on the money is becoming pretty damning as the walls begin threatening to come tumbling down around him. Number one of one priority is keeping his precious son Billy safe from harm, although he’s mindful of the fact that, by holding him so close, he may well be placing his own child in direct danger.
Kavanagh appreciates that the key ingredient to any shocker worth its salt is mystery and refuses the urge to reveal too much until such a time as he’s ready. Just like our tormented lead, we no longer know what to believe and it is testament to a highly creditable turn from Evans that we’re so desperate to figure it out even though we’re reasonably assured that all this curiosity could amount to him being snatched callously away into the shadows at any given moment.
Framing is critical here as David’s fretful face is kept front and centre constantly, usually in isolation from other characters, so we get the ominous pleasure of watching the dominoes fall one by one behind his weary eyes and director of photography Piers McGrail uses deep red as the primary color to keep the audience on high alert throughout. Meanwhile, the pulsating score by Ceiri Torjussen isn’t designed to let you rest easy and the overall sound design is impeccable from stem to stern.
While Evans unquestionably anchors the film, there are a number of other key performances that stand out also. Campbell-Hughes is superb as perhaps the only person left who David can count on, particularly when it becomes harder to justify his actions. She is desperate to help him but we watch the hope steadily draining away as she is forced to admit that something evidently isn’t right with him. Byrne is no less magnanimous as his long-suffering nanny, torn between the genuine bond she shares with the child under her care and the hellish demands of entertaining her employer’s episodic madness.
What Kavanagh provides is an intense, dread laden death march through the darkest recesses of a fast fracturing mind and a chronicle of grief and its manifestation.The crack in the wall reflects the same fissure opening up in David’s own fragmented mindset and, just like him, we won’t rest until we learn what kind of misery lies on the other side. While the closing act finally answers our questions by opting for shocks of a more overt nature, when that sucker punch eventually comes, it packs enough oomph to truly knock the wind from our already flagging sails.
Some may consider the conclusion something of a knock-off of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and, while there are clear parallels, I’d prefer to think of it as affectionate homage and a damn affecting one at that. By this point, the hard work has already been done, and any revelation whatsoever is likely to push this film deeper beneath our skins where it will no doubt fester for days. The Canal may not be able to boast the widespread appeal of certain more fashionable frightmares, but it calls to mind the work of Hammer and Amicus studios in the seventies and there are few compliments I can pay greater than that.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 4/5
For the Dread-Heads: Kavanagh clearly has an idea of the dos and don’ts of making an effective scary movie and, for the most part, refrains from revealing too much in favor of steadily ratcheting the tension by more cerebral means. Occasionally he takes the easy route and, to his credit, orchestrates the more elementary shocks decidedly well but it’s the omnipresent air of stillness that makes The Canal such a nightmarish number and there’s plenty of that spread throughout.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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