Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In short: The Canal (2014)

Film archivist David (Rupert Evans) leads a seemingly happy life with his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and his little son Billy (Calum Heath), but cracks start to show. It’s not just that David becomes convinced his wife is cheating on him, nor that Alice disappears – soon to be found dead – just on the night when he finds out she truly is cheating on him and the police then sees him as the logical and obvious suspect. Following a very old crime scene film about his own home he encountered at work, David has become convinced something is very wrong with the family home, and the curious noises and dreams David already had before he saw the film turn into visions and appearances, leading him to the conviction that his house and his family are haunted. Or is David just delusional, and really did kill his wife?

Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal is quite an accomplished and effective psychological ghost story of the type that keeps the truth of its supernatural occurrences ambiguous for a long time, observing its protagonist getting pulled deep into a rabbit hole that might be actual ghosts yet increasingly looks like a more normal kind of madness. Kavanagh – also responsible for the script – never walks into the trap of making this a film that is all about a twist or an explanation, not aiming for these simple effects.

Instead, the way The Canal uses these elements, it’s not truly important if what we see is David’s final psychological unravelling – either through the vagaries of life or ghosts – or just a haunting, because this is a film that actually manages to have it both ways: the supernatural here works just as well as a metaphor for David’s mental state as it does as the real thing.

Kavanagh achieves this through sometimes archetypically nightmarish set-pieces paired with impressively horrible images throughout, a highly capable cast, often brilliant sound design, and a script that is intelligent enough to keep things open for as long as it works, even managing a twist-y ending that seems fair and in tone with the rest of the movie we just saw. The Canal is also particularly good at drawing its minor characters, so while it does concentrate on David and his plight, the people around him and the way they react to him feels plausible and real, greatly helping ground the film in emotions that feel raw, messy, and believable.

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