Irish horror makes a splash

by Gazette Reporter
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A GOOD horror movie is a rare thing – for every Babadook, there’s a host of terrible films.
Just glance through the IMDB scores of what the genre has offered in the past few years and you’ll see the most constant element is a mediocre rating.
Audiences flock to the cinema in the hopes of titillating a primal rush of fear, but too often leave disappointed.
The power of that fundamental captivation we have with the supernatural is highlighted in the opening scene of The Canal, which sees film archivist David (Rupert Evans) addressing the camera, which pivots to reveal a cinema audience of unruly school kids, evidently on a class trip.
A shout of “Who wants to see some ghosts?” quells the clamour, as David continues to explain that all the people in the archive footage the group are about to watch are long dead – cue groans of frustration from the kids. It’s a strong, self-aware and promising start to a particularly nightmarish journey.
Shot in Dublin, Irish director and writer Ivan Kavanagh’s disturbing ghost story focuses around the central character of David.
Things are looking rosy for him and his pregnant wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) as we see them settle into their Georgian house by the canal.
Fast forward five years, and we see some obvious changes – their son Billy is well established in their home, and more importantly some cracks are beginning to show in their relationship.
David seems to be quite familiar with a female colleague, and at the same time is jealous of the attention that Alice gets at work.
Accompanying her on a work night out, he surveys her body language when speaking with clients and suspects that she is having an affair.
Things take a significant turn for the worse when, in the course of work, David watches some archive crime scene footage and finds out that a century earlier a violent murder took place on Black Street, in the very house where David and his family are now living.
After watching the footage, something shifts in David’s world – he starts to see movement in the shadows, have strange dreams, and become increasingly hostile and suspicious of his wife.
It is the otherworldly sequences that really set The Canal apart from its peers. Lulled into familiar territory of marital disturbances, it is a shock for the viewer to enter the twisted dreamscape of David, where he is haunted by the figure from the video.
There are some golden moments here that are reminiscent of Don Cascarelli’s Phantasm series, where the mundane and the supernatural worlds meet in a feverish, murky, and electrifying meld.
The bulk of the film oscillates between these peaks of intense, engaging, and effective horror and the banalities of David’s life as he tries to understand what is happening to him – it’s the latter where the film at points falls a little flat, with some heavy-handed dialogue and an overreliance on jump-cut editing dispelling some of the tension built up in the creepier scenes.
Like a smorgasbord of horror, The Canal seems to have a little bit of everything. In the wonderfully inventive dream sequences, there is a throwback to a distinctly 80s-kind of ethereal horror.
We’ve an abundant helping of gore and jump-scares, but also a touch of psychological depth as the story can be read – albeit with a little effort – as an exposition of fear around birth.
The problem with incorporating such a variety of styles is that it never feels like it masters one, but overall The Canal is a solid helping of creative and effective home-grown horror.

Verdict: 6/10

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