DIRECTOR Ivan Kavanagh WRITER Ivan Kavanagh STARS Rupert Evans; Antonia Campbell-Hughes; Hannah Hoekstra DVD 14 September
With some overt references and a clear appreciation of early horror classics in the first act, it may seem as if this Irish production from writer-director Ivan Kavanagh is going to tread a familiar path of possession, but all is far from what it initially seems. The Canal is a smart little film that provides some genuine moments of terror and uses a clever script to constantly throw the viewer off track. A shame then that it found little favour during its theatrical release, although festival audiences were more appreciative. Let’s hope for better success on DVD, a medium where its claustrophobic atmosphere may be better suited.
In fact, by the time cinema archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) and his wife and young boy have settled into their new home, and a mysterious old film canister has come into his hands that appears to show a murder in their house, this is drifting into a classic European-style giallo in the style of Argento and Mario Bava. The comparisons are obvious during a tremendous scene in, of all places, a grim public toilet on the banks of The Canal, where Kavanagh uses primary colours, a pounding soundtrack and a dark-cowled figure to represent David’s state of mind following the revelation that his wife has been having an affair, ruining his idyllic life. When she is dragged dead from the water next morning David’s present life and that shown on the old film start to blur, and as the police try to pin the death on him, events in the house become increasingly odd.
Kavanagh paces his film perfectly, letting his characters breathe and speculate on events, and by the time David’s hallucinations become more frequent he amps up the tension with effective jump cuts, ghostly figures, and some explicit gore that, because it’s being used sparingly, is all the more effective. A final descent into the bowels of the house brings a twisted climax, in which a subterranean tunnel leads to a perverse scene of birth that will stay long in the minds of those that see it. Derivative then? Certainly; there are also elements of Japanese horror here, but when it’s done this well one can only appreciate the effort. Kavanagh proves himself a great talent in the genre.