'The Canal': Frightfest Review

Courtesy of Park Films
Tense family drama becomes mind-bending nightmare

Gripping Irish murder thriller puts a contemporary twist on vintage psycho-horror ingredients

With a scare factor far greater than its modest dimensions initially seem to promise, The Canal is a polished indie psycho-thriller full of macabre twists and nerve-snapping tension. Shot in Ireland with a multinational cast, writer-director Ivan Kavanagh's fifth feature picked up positive reviews on the festival circuit before making its British debut at Frightfest in London last weekend. With a U.S. theatrical and VOD release scheduled for October, this superior genre exercise has the potential to make a decent commercial breakout based on critical buzz and personal recommendation.

British TV regular and Hellboy veteran Rupert Evans plays David, a film archivist who moves into an elegant new townhouse alongside an urban canal with his Dutch wife, Alice (Hannah Hoekstra), and their young son, Billy, superbly played by the cherubic, winningly natural child actor Calum Heath. Soon after unearthing creepy vintage footage of a murder that took place in his house 100 years ago, David discovers that Alice is having an extramarital affair. When her body is dragged from the canal a few days later, he becomes the prime suspect. Crazed by grief and jealousy, David struggles to convince the police that malevolent paranormal forces were behind the murder.

The Canal hardly boasts the most original plot, but it is a stylish and scary mash-up of various psycho-horror traditions. There are echoes here of spooky classics including Roman Polanski's Repulsion, Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio. David Lynch also exerts a heavy influence on the more nightmarishly surreal scenes, but Kavanagh's most obvious contemporary parallel is rising Brit-horror auteur Ben Wheatley, who combines gritty realism with dark humor and a sense of deranged occult weirdness lurking just below the surface of everyday life. Kavanagh even borrows Wheatley's regular editor, Robin Hill, and casts his former leading man Steve Oram as a cynical homicide detective.

Lane-swerving between different genres, from old-school ghost story to found footage to visceral body horror, The Canal distracts the viewer with hallucinatory digressions and red herrings. Even if the final twist feels a little pedestrian, the journey to that point is full of strong set pieces, particularly a horrific subterranean finale involving a decomposing corpse. Kavanagh, Hill and their sound design team push their skills to experimental extremes here with shuddering jump cuts, subliminal single-frame edits and blood-curdling offscreen noises. The cumulative effect is an intense and unsettling trip into the twilight zone.

Production company: Park Films
Starring: Rupert Evans, Hannah Hoekstra, Calum Heath, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Steve Oram
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Producer: Annemarie Naughton
Cinematographer: Piers McGrail
Editor: Robin Hill
Production Designer: Stephanie Clerkin
Music: Ceiri Torjussen
Sales company: Jinga Films

No rating, 92 minutes

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