The Canal (2014)
A young family moves into a nice, quiet home. What can go wrong, besides everything? Such is the premise of untold horror movies, and now The Canal. An Irish import ../../../../css/r tropes_ from jump scares to witless gore. It also gives horror fiends an entirely competent __8212_saieid0p6pnpk60o4j62dv.css; if pretty uninspired — latest fix.
The film opens on David (Rupert Evans) and Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) as they prepare to purchase a house on a serene suburban street. Five years later, the two have a son and the appearance, at least, of a tranquil life. David works as a film archivist. In the film’s opening scenes, he discovers a police film reel that details the aftermath of a homicide in his very home. The silent, black and white film shows police as they fish a body out of a nearby canal and usher a handcuffed man from David’s home. The year was 1902. Several people died.
[…] the film offers a parade of tired horror tropes, from jump scares to witless gore. It also gives horror fiends an entirely competent — if pretty uninspired — latest fix.
The discovery doesn’t faze David, at least not at first. Instead, he becomes consumed with perhaps-justified jealousy over his wife’s encounters with another man. David decides to trail Alice after work, which leads to a violent, surreal encounter near the same canal as the 1902 murder. He awakes in a grotesque public bathroom, his memory of the evening wiped. Alice, meanwhile, has disappeared.
The bulk of The Canal depicts David as he strains to connect a series of past murders with his own spiraling situation. Fueled either by madness, grief, or some supernatural force, David alienates everyone around him, including Sophie, his son’s nanny (Kelly Byrne), and Claire, his chief coworker (Antonia Campbell-Hughes).
There’s a moment early on in The Canal when Claire leaps into the frame to startle David for no reason. “I couldn’t help it,” she says with a laugh. Neither, sigh, could the film. Writer/director Ivan Kavanagh litters his movie with the lowest form of horror cinema: the jump scare. Anywhere he can, Kavanagh bludgeons us with bombastic sound design and hard cuts to some garish, grainy close-up to keep our attention. Even the sound of a mother zipping her son’s coat gets amped to deafening levels.
That a modern horror movie would resort to ADD tactics isn’t surprising. It does, however, make very little sense in this movie. The entire plot, after all, circles around raw, century-old archival footage. There’s real horror to be culled from these images; a clever director could play with all those inky blacks and grainy interiors. Kavanagh, instead, can’t seem to let a scene play out. He drowns the whole thing in fast cuts and what sounds like someone mashing an Ominous Ambient Sounds key on a Casio.
The whole thing feels shackled to genre conventions. It also doesn’t help that the film bears such an immediate resemblance to Sinister, the 2012 Ethan Hawke vehicle.
The narrative offers little more in the way of innovation. Of course, “Family moves into house, turns out it’s maybe haunted” could serve as a tagline for an entire genre of movies. And like most of them, The Canal delves into the horrific events that may have left a spell on the house in the first place. And as in so many movies before, various characters accuse our lead of suffering from trauma-induced hallucinations, and he responds with some variation of “You have to believe me!” The whole thing feels shackled to genre conventions. It also doesn’t help that the film bears such an immediate resemblance to Sinister, the 2012 Ethan Hawke vehicle. That film, ubiquitous enough to get the Marlon Wayans parody treatment this month, also includes such plot details as a family that moves into a new home, a previous family murder, and a father who searches for clues in grainy archival footage. The Canal has the misfortune of echoing both a whole genre and one of its more recent (and memorable) entries.
All that said, the film does little to truly offend. Less discerning horror fans likely won’t mind the paint-by-numbers story, the grating horror aesthetics, or the obligatory twist endings, which at this point are more the norm than the “mind-blowing” exception. Kavanagh fashions a few genuine scares, and the performers remain committed to the task of making a conventional scare-machine. The Canal is a thorough overview of the modern haunted house movie, clichés and all.
A nondescript entry in the haunted house genre, The Canal strays very little from the formula set by so many films before it. It’s a competent, by-the-numbers affair, but scarcely an inspired one.