Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Writer: Ivan Kavanagh
Stars: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra
British ghost stories tend to break down into two basic types. On the one hand, you have your ‘gothic’ haunted house horrors, which are generally set in enormous country piles and often – although not always – in the past. Think of The Woman in Black, The Awakening, The Others and so on. Then you have your psychological horrors; these are more commonly contemporary and largely take place in urban environments. The grand-daddy of these films is Repulsion, but in more recent years there have also been the likes of The Disappeared, When the Lights Went Out and so on. Both types of films focus on characters who could be described as psychologically brittle, although in the former there’s normally an unspoken assumption that the ghosts concerned actually exist, whereas in the latter this is far from certain and more often than not the spooky events depicted are actually a manifestation of the protagonist’s mental disintegration. It is in this bracket that the 2014 film The Canal, directed by Ivan Kavanagh, (un)comfortably belongs.
David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist who is married to the beautiful Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and has a little boy called Billy (Calum Heath). His life is thrown into turmoil by a series of disturbing incidents: while watching some old crime film footage he discovers that his house was the scene of a violent murder a century earlier; he finds out that Alice is have an affair and is planning to leave him; and then she disappears, her corpse turning up in the canal next to where they live a few days later. The investigating police officer (Steve Oram) has his suspicions that David might have been involved with her death – after all, if there’s a murder it’s normally the husband who is to blame – but David becomes increasingly convinced that there’s some kind of maleficient force connected to the house, which was apparently used for occult rituals and possibly human sacrifice in Victorian times.
This is an effective, suitably spooky production which deservedly gained positive reviews from the mainstream press and picked up several awards at horror and fantasy festivals around the world. It’s not without its flaws – the idea of a musty film archivist being married to the ridiculously glamorous Hannah Hoekstra is ridiculous, but then again this does lead credence to her character’s having an affair with a man with a stupid ponytail – but it largely makes up for them through careful plotting and technical proficiency. The photography by Piers McGrail (who also shot the visually impressive Let us Prey) is excellent, making superb use of the Irish locations and most particularly a creepy, graffiti-covered public lavatory which acts as a a kind of portal to the horrific events which follow. Rupert Evans is very good in the lead role and there’s entertaining support from Oram (whose cop is even weirder than the character he played in Sightseers) and Lead Balloon’s Antonia Campbell-Hughes.