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New Release Review - THE CANAL

A film archivist becomes convinced the ghost of a murderer is responsible for his wife's death.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ivan Kavanagh

Starring: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra, Kelly Byrne, Steve Oram, Calum Heath



"The Canal's best moments are its quietest; when characters begin speaking it sadly falls apart. If director Ivan Kavanagh finds an established writer to collaborate with on future projects, he'll certainly be a director to watch."



The Canal opens with its protagonist David (Rupert Evans), a film archivist, introducing historical footage to a jaded crowd of teenage schoolkids. Knowing they'd all rather be watching the latest 3D superhero movie, David attempts to perk their interest by telling the kids that everyone in the footage they're about to watch have been dead for a long time, so in a way it's a movie about ghosts. The kids don't fall for his ruse and David leaves the stage in resignation.
In joking about archive footage providing a home to ghosts, David may have preempted his fate. Years later, having moved into a new home with his wife and infant son, David sits down to view a reel of footage labelled 'Crime Scene 1902', which depicts the aftermath of a brutal murder at the very address his family just settled into. Initially, David doesn't read too much significance into this coincidence, but when his unfaithful wife's body is fished out of a nearby canal, he becomes convinced that her killer is no less than the spirit of the 1902 murderer.
Writer-director Ivan Kavanagh takes an admirable approach to constructing his psychological horror, shunning the copout jump scares that make mainstream American fright flicks so infuriating. Instead, Kavanagh focusses on building up an increasing atmosphere of dread. Yet, in taking his cues from Asian horror, Kavanagh's film feels highly derivative, even featuring a slow moving dead girl with long straggly black hair. There's nothing here we haven't seen before, save for transferring J-Horror tropes to an unspecified British Isles setting.
Saying that, there are a couple of spine-tingling moments, and the film's best sequence features the aforementioned brunette spirit, visible only to David (who may or not be imagining all this), but whose image can be captured on film. The idea that spirits become visible when filmed is unconvincingly conveyed however; David seems to instinctively know to set up a camera, but why such an idea would occur to him is never made clear.
The title location and its adjacent, dimly lit underpass (home to the world's most poorly maintained public toilets) add an extra creepy edge, but despite the movie's moniker, The Canal is essentially another haunted house flick. It's certainly better than its Hollywood contemporaries, as Kavanagh clearly has more skill in generating atmosphere than the likes of James Wan. The Canal's best moments are its quietest; when characters begin speaking it sadly falls apart. If Kavanagh finds an established writer to collaborate with on future projects, he'll certainly be a director to watch. 



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