Tuesday 19 November 2019

Review: The Canal - 'Irish horror is fresh, deft and stylish on a modest budget'

Tanya Sweeney

Question: how would you feel if you knew that a grim and grisly murder had taken place many years ago in your family home? Not that hot, I should suspect.


It’s the conundrum that film archivist David (Rupert Evans) finds himself in when he moves into a dream Georgian house in Dublin with his pregnant wife Alice (Hanna Hoekstra).

While working on old footage, David realises that a particularly gruesome murder took place in the very canal-side house he and his family live in.

Before long, a shadowy figure has started to show up about the house. So far, so uncomfortable… but things go from bad to worse when he finds Alice having a white-hot affair with a work associate Alex (Carl Shaaban).

Alice is normally a glacial type from the Kate Middleton school of perfectly nice wives, so to see her in the throes of passion with someone else throws David (and the audience, for that matter) for a loop.

David has a sort of mental breakdown, during which he witnesses a shadowy figure throw a woman into the canal. A few days later, the body of Alice is pulled from the canal.

“People always suspect the husband, you know why that is? It’s always the husband,” says detective McNamara (Steve Oram), somewhat ominously. And thus kick-starts a beautifully calibrated whodunit, where even David can’t be sure he isn’t the bad guy.

The Canal comes hot on the heels of another pacey and stylish horror, Conor McMahon’s Into The Dark. Both use sound design, music and light and shade to impressive effect to execute the perfect marriage of tension and visceral gore. But even amid the odd heart-stopping moment, there’s something magnetic and finely tuned about David’s ongoing psychological undoing.

Kavanagh already tackled mental illness in 2009’s The Fading Light… it’s clearly a theme he’s getting comfortable with.

As The Canal’s leading man, Evans does a fairly game job of being an everyman in the midst of a crisis of masculinity (and a crisis of, well, real estate).

Hoekstra is one-note, but perhaps that’s what the part of David’s trophy wife calls for. Kelly Byrne, as the family nanny Sophie, is one to watch, and certainly doesn’t hold back with the screams.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes, in a supporting role as David’s smitten colleague Claire, is proving to be one of Irish cinema’s true chameleons. She has the kind of face born for cinema: highly watchable, unconventional and compelling.

A man going mad in his own house is one of the cornerstones of the classic horror, but

Kavanagh keeps things fresh, deft and stylish with a modest enough budget.

Though it may not seem like a typically Irish film on the surface (thanks to a myriad of accents), it’s definitely one for the growing pile of Little Irish Movies That Could.

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