Movie Review: THE CANAL (2014)


“Film archivist David (Rupert Evans) has been having a rough time lately, as he suspects that his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) has been cheating on him with Alex (Carl Shaaban), one of her work clients.  This stress is compounded when David’s work partner Claire (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) gives him a reel of to-be-archived footage that shows that his house was the setting for a brutal murder in 1902.  Becoming progressively more unsettled and unhinged, David begins to believe that a spectral presence is in his house and ends up following his wife to a nearby canal, where he discovers that she is indeed having an affair with Alex.  When Alice goes missing shortly afterwards, David contacts the police – only to become the prime suspect in her disappearance.  As the police grow more convinced that David has murdered his wife, he struggles to find proof of his growing suspicion that something otherworldly was instead responsible.”


Since this is my first review, I feel I should point out that I’m a massive fan of all things horror.  I’ve seen many, many horror films in my day.  This causes me to be both forgiving and harsh with my opinions.  Yes, they’re two very different adjectives, but they both hold true.

The Canal (an Irish/Welsh co-production) has a lot of promise.  It has a somber tone (a favorite cinematic quality of mine) and the lead character is dejected and beaten down, from the very beginning.  It has a few creepy images, displayed through scratchy black and white archival footage.  It can be difficult to duplicate the look and sound of genuine archival footage, and the filmmakers succeeded for the most part.  There are also some particularly violent special effects (a brutal stabbing comes to mind).

The protagonist, David (Rupert Evans), trudges slowly through the movie, meandering from home to work, and back home, always making sure to walk past the titular canal.  And meander he did, as the pace of the movie could be likened to molasses.  Sadly, we’re not talking Carpenter-esque “slow burn” – we’re talking just plain slow.  Trust me, I have a lot of patience when it comes to cinema.  I don’t suffer from ADHD.  The first 40 minutes of this 92-minute movie were all build-up with little payoff.  I can’t say it’s a case of style over substance, because even the style wasn’t that exciting.

There were several other characters in the film: David’s son, Billy; his wife, Alice: his co-worker/friend, Claire; his nanny, Sophie; and Detective McNamara.  Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with any of them.  The Canal lacks substantial character development which a horror film of this nature – one that attempts to get inside its protagonist’s head – needs to succeed.  I’m not blaming the actors; they did the best they could with what they were given.  I’m not even sure who I should blame, or if I even care enough to try blaming anyone.

The Canal also comes across as derivative.  I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, this bit reminds me of Sinister!” Or, “This scene was very reminiscent of The Ring.” Or, “Hey, they did that in Paranormal Activity!” I know it’s next to impossible for a screenwriter to create an entirely new story these days, but it was obvious that they’d taken multiple cues from the films I mentioned.

Even though it may seem I’m being harsh, I didn’t hate The Canal.  It certainly has scenes that grabbed my attention.  The aforementioned stabbing is effective – it’s bloody and disturbing, as any good cinematic stabbing should be.  There’s also a dizzying scene in a subterranean tunnel with twists and turns that incited feelings of unease.  Another scene had me wondering what the heck I was even watching, and when it comes to horror, that should be considered a compliment.  Without spoiling the ending – I’ll just say it caught me off guard.

The Canal did leave me with a few questions.  Were the events of a supernatural nature, or just manifestations of a troubled mind?  Did the movie pull off what it was trying to achieve?  And last but not least, what was it trying to achieve as a whole?  I may never know as the film didn’t manage to convey its intentions clearly.

Concept/Story: 1
Direction/Style: 2 (although not dripping with any specific style, it has its moments so it gets 1 for direction and 1 for style)
Scares: 1
Atmosphere: 1
Rewatchability: 0

TOTAL:  5/10

Would I recommend this film to horror buffs?  Yes, I would.  It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not terrible.  It ticks the horror boxes as far as creepy, bloody, disturbing, and (even) sexy go.  If you’re looking for decent Irish/UK indie horror, I’d suggest a film called Citadel (2012).  I enjoyed that more, and I encourage you to check it out.  Regardless of my 5/10 rating, I always do my very best to support all horror, and I hope anyone reading this will too, so make your own judgement about The Canal.

Happy Horroring!

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