7.5 out of 10

UK / Ireland / Netherlands Co-Production

Release Date: 14th September 2015 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Ivan Kavanagh

Cast: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Steve Oram, Calum Heath, Kelly Byrne, Anneke Blok, Carl Shaaban, Paddy Curran and Hannah Hoenarts

Writer: Ivan Kavanagh

Trailer: THE CANAL

Review by Matt Usher below.



One thought on “THE CANAL

  1. Review Matt ‘Shit Creek’ Usher

    If this film had been made twenty years ago (and if I’d seen it then) it might have been my favourite film of its type (psychological horror ghost story). But I’ve seen many similar films since so it isn’t. Even so, the film has all the right ingredients in the right proportions and in the right order, and it just about does the job, but there’s not much to get excited about (except possibly if you’ve not seen this sort of film before).

    Rupert Evans is our hero, David, though he spends most of the film reminding me of (former deputy prime minister) Nick Clegg looking sad. (Indeed Mr Evans would be ideal casting as that turncoat-Quisling-Talleyrand-class-traitor-and-Tory-lickspittle-cheerleading-nonentity.) Not only has David got an incredibly cushy job (he’s an incredibly well-paid film archivist) with limitless flexitime, but he’s also got a gorgeous Dutch wife, a boss who’s in love with him (though she speaks in a creepy whisper throughout which is quite unnerving) and a pretty babysitter for his adorable son (whose thick Irish accent is curious given his Anglo-Dutch parentage, though they do live in Dublin). It’s fair to say that all is well in David’s world. But this is a spooky psychological ghost horror story about a haunted toilet (which is near the canal hence the title THE CANAL rather than THE TOILET). So obviously it’s all going to go horribly wrong and death will inevitably come to a significant percentage of the cast.

    We open with David happily moving into a new house with his happy family. They are happy, as happy as can be. But then his whisper-voiced boss gives him an assignment: to look at some old newsreel footage. Therein David finds that his beautiful new house was – shock horror – the site of a cruel and unnatural murder back in the days of black and white silent movies! Once he realises he lives in a beautiful old creepy house of death things begin to go wrong. He keeps running into ghosts and seeing shadows which are really men with savage intent (or are they?).

    For reasons I can’t remember David starts hanging around the titular canal, and pops into a municipal lavatory which has long been the preserve of graffiti artists and ghostly manifestations of evil. This turns out to be a bad move. Meanwhile Mrs David seems to be getting on a bit too well with a glorified extra, and before you know it David realises she’s having an affair. Being a bit of a nosy parker, David breaks into the glorified extra’s house only to secretly witness Mrs David and the glorified extra presenting a soft-porn tableau on a very uncomfortable looking floor (you’d think the bloke could afford a bed, he’s meant to be some sort of rich client after all). It just so happens that David at this moment is armed with a not-at-all-phallic hammer. I’m sure Sight and Sound could have written reams about this bit. Disappointed by his wife’s nocturnal leisure choices David avoids murdering them where they lay and wanders disconsolately home, hurling the hammer into the canal as he does so.

    Ironically, and very soon afterwards, his wife’s body is found in the very same canal! David quickly becomes non-Irish copper Steve Oram’s prime and only suspect. Things

    look bad, particularly as the creepy ghosts start leaping about all over the place, and a mysterious non-corporeal man is trying to kill his son and rape the babysitter/nanny, who really deserves a medal for devotion to duty. But only David sees the ghost, a bit like Big Bird and Mr Snuffleupagus in Sesame Street. Before you know it reality, imagination, film, hell, death and scary toilets are enmeshed and intertwined but nowhere near as inextricably as the film thinks they are.

    We’ve had this story a thousand times about haunted men and the thin lines between truth, the unknown, the imagined and the uncanny. THE CANAL is a pretty good – at times very good – reworking of the story, occasionally let down by some odd shots which drift in almost like a spoof at times, but mostly saved by some creepy lighting, decent set-pieces and performances which, for the most part vary between serviceable and good. Evans is excellent at David’s despair, numbness and determination, but he misses a little on the uncertainty and awkwardness of the character. Hannah Hoekstra has little to do other than look floaty and pretty. I liked the babysitter (Kelly Byrne) – clearly a supporting actress who does the (quite right) thing of believing the film is really about the babysitter having to put up with all this palaver.

    There is one stand-out moment in one of the guesthouse scenes but for the most part THE CANAL manages to be a bit bland, albeit very well made bland. The plot throws up few surprises and isn’t particularly interesting. But there are a few eerie moments and the director knows how to generate a bit of suspense and is able to keep things reasonably ambiguous. THE CANAL is absolutely, thoroughly professional, and very well-behaved, but it’s without personality. With the films of Andrew Jones or barmy enterprises like MINDFLESH, or pretty much the entire recent zombie wave (or even the oeuvre of non-film-maker Richard Driscoll) for all their many, many faults, you at least get the feeling that they’re making films because they want to make them, and they’ve got an attitude of some sort. THE CANAL is just sort of … there, a take it or leave it film which proves to be more than mildly diverting but ephemeral and empty. I wish I could be more positive, there’s little wrong with it, but there’s not much that’s unusually outstanding about it either. And so I can only damn it with faint (if genuine) praise like ‘efficient’, ‘competent’ and ‘about 5000% better than HAUNTED’. None of which means much. It does everything you’d expect, but leaves no impression when it’s gone, like a very polite ghost.

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