Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rupert Evans, Steve Oram, Hannah Hoekstra and Calum Heath.
Running Time: 93 minutes
Film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) unearths a reel of early twentieth century celluloid that clearly shows the aftermath of a murder committed in the home he now resides in with wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and infant son Billy (Calum Heath). Days after the discovery of the reels, a body is found in the titular canal and with all eyes on David, he must convince the police of his certainty that something supernatural links the murder of 1902 and the death they now investigate.
Usually when writing a review I engage the reader in a certain amount of foreplay. I’ll give you a list of pros and a series of improvements that should have been made, before a summary and star rating. There will be no such suspense here, no bushel-hidden lights this time. I love THE CANAL.
On five occasions throughout the duration of the film, I lost control of my limbs. I’m not talking about your standard mini fright here but five moments at which I found my arms and hands covering my face and my legs and feet hanging stiff in the air. The source of this absolute terror in THE CANAL starts as being inextricably entwined with its film form. It’s the shot that lingers for just a second too long, the unexpected jump cut and the crescendo of sound that are all utilised in unsettling the audience before the darkness is turned out in the final third as David’s troubling thoughts are laid bare.
It is in these final instances of visual horror, somehow schizophrenically disgusting and beautiful that my mouth clattered open, agog at the exquisite attention only an artist pays to his/her latest creation. Agog, too, was I at the turn of Steve Oram as Detective McNamara, the man charged with solving the mystery of the canal death. Oram gives the cleverest naturalistic portrayal since Martin Freeman’s Tim from ‘The Office’, which is unexpected from a man best known for his work with surrealist comedian Noel Fielding. He does the impossible. Oram presents the film’s detective without resorting to tired cliché or overbearing yet reductive ‘difference’. He isn’t in a wheelchair, he doesn’t wear an eye patch and he isn’t especially troubled, bar niggling indigestion. McNamara is just that nondescript bloke from work, and it’s this understanding of the effectiveness of camouflage that makes Oram’s character stand out.
As a baby film critic I promised to only give five stars to films that I considered to be perfect. Is THE CANAL perfect? No, I can’t help but question the selection of a child actor whose broad Irish accent, when combined with his infantile idiosyncrasies, sometimes makes him impossible to understand but, sometimes, one gets so drawn into a piece of cinema, criticism is no longer a matter of cognition but something more visceral.
THE CANAL isn’t just a great horror film, it’s the yardstick by which future attempts at the genre should be measured. It delivers the scares that it promises, unlike many of its contemporaries, whilst Kavanagh sustains his focus on the film’s gorgeous aesthetic.
If THE CANAL isn’t in the top ten films of the decade, we can all celebrate one hell of a cinematic period.