PLOT: Film archivist David (Rupert Evans) and Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) purchase a place to settle down and start a family. They have a kid together, but things aren't as happy as they seem. David has some suspicions about his wife. This coincides with David's discovery of a reel of film from 1902 that seems to show a brutal murder that took place in his own home.
REVIEW: Remember Sinister? I really enjoyed that movie, the one where Ethan Hawke stars as a true-crime writer who finds some old 8mm home movies films that suggest the murder he's researching is the work of a serial killer.
Does any of this sound familiar? Because it probably will with this one. The Canal's plot just didn’t click with me, and for this reason i'm sure this will divide readers. It could certainly be argued that The Canal is a smart, effective film- but for me, it just felt so samey. It’s another case of: a family moves in, family has more troubles than we originally envisioned, major conflict point, Dad is consumed with family issues, this links up with his scary footage discovery, you have the whole “am I going crazy/someone just has to believe me” struggle, then everything wraps up with a twist.
A huge gripe I had is that the movie tries so hard to get you with really lame jump scares. I’m not one who likes to pick on this tactic all the time, but it gets on my nerves when a movie tries to bombard you with the jump stings that come from nothing. You know what I mean- someone’s changing their shirt and a friend jumps out of the closet, just to screw with them? This movie seems to relish the opportunity to pound you with these (and loud jump cuts to scary images- the sound design here is extremely heavy handed), which really offers a strange juxtaposition against the film’s dark (and horrific) premise.
There’s plenty of terror to be mined when you’re dealing with horrifying old footage with a parallel to your life, but director Ivan Kavanagh doesn’t stay put with any of it. There are some well-placed moments of dread to be found here- a terrifying old projector certainly helps build the tension in a few key scenes, and I also really enjoyed the suggestive moments that weren’t just throwing ghastly quick shots of body horror in my face. There are a few particularly nightmarish visions that stand out (a certain nasty birth scene stuck well).
To be fair, Rupert Evans is excellent as our protagonist. His slow descent into paranoia and/or madness is believable and helps tremendously. The guy’s dealing with some painful adultery issues, and his child (an excellent young Calum Heath) is constantly being threatened. Newcomer Kelly Byrne turns in a great performance as a Nanny who has been thrust in the middle of the worst kind of family conflict. This whole film smacks heavily of a central theme of simply dealing with total loss.
Let’s put everything into perspective here. I felt that the tone of The Canal was a bit off- while there were some solid atmospheric and tense moments, I’m not sold on some of the “just because” jumps. I also felt that the plot here was just a bit too familiar for my taste. That being said, performances here are very solid all around, which really helps anchor the film. The Canal also packs a pretty decent surprise ending that I won’t spoil, which is a check in the good column (and look out for the film's final images-yeesh). Very good performances, some strange stylistic choices and a familiar plot make The Canal an above average title that you likely won’t remember a month after watching it.