The Canal is a good old fashioned ghost story with murky reflections, dirty corridors, long haired haunters and adulterous wives. Ivan Kavanagh’s Irish tale follows archivist David (the incredible Rupert Evans), who lives in a beautiful old house near a canal with his wife, Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and son, Billy (Calum Heath). But things start to turn dark and gloomy for the family when David discovers that his wife is having an affair with one of the men that she works with. Whilst he is still trying to process the possible end of his marriage, his colleague, Claire (a haunting Antonia Campbell-Hughes) gives him a collection of old tapes dating back to the early 1900’s, which shows his house as a place of brutal murder of the family that lived there. When his wife goes missing and he becomes the prime suspect, David must do all he can without going insane to prove that something from another world is in the house and has taken his wife from under his nose.
As the film goes on, the lines between reality and this potential other world start to blur and David starts to get lost between both worlds as he becomes haunted by the noises and voices in the house – but he just needs someone else to believe what he is saying. When the body of his wife is found in the nearby canal, David is sure that some form of ghostly presence is at work but becomes stuck in a loop involving himself, a hammer and watching his wife having sex with another man. As the walls of his reality start to close in around him, David becomes more protective and anxious for his young son and is sure that something is out to get him and the nanny, Sophie (Kelly Byrne). As David’s behaviour becomes more erratic, Sophie, his mother in law and the police become more worried for the safety of the little boy but it is going to take something deadly to occur for David to give up that easily.
Kavanagh wonderfully taps into the theory of things going bump in the middle of the night with The Canal, whilst Alice’s death takes place in an external surrounding, the film closes in with a wonderfully intense feeling of claustrophobia within the house, which clearly has some secret history that is unknown to those living in it now. His style of filmmaking is such that when the lines between reality and some other world blur, it silently and quickly causes a feeling of alienation for the audience as they are pulled further and further away from David (or rather he is pulled further away into this darkness). The final 20 minutes cement The Canal as a force to be reckoned with within contemporary horror cinema and prove that with patience, the pay off is even more wonderful. Kavanagh plays with the position of the audience constantly throughout, placing them here and there between the walls that David finds are closing in around him until the point that the audience support David and don’t want anything more to go wrong for him.
Evans’ performance as David is also so wonderfully subtle and delicate that whilst the audience have a constant back and forth over whether he hurt his wife or not, by the end you are on his side and you are sure that something ghostly has taken over and is making all the decisions.
A stand out film, filled with intense moments and really highlighting the intelligent and creepy horror cinema coming out of Ireland, The Canal is one of the best pieces of Irish cinema this decade and most certainly a fresh but familiar take on the traditional ghost story.