Girl on Film
by Brody Rossiter
Countless locations carry a vast amount of significance within the canon of horror storytelling. From seemingly harmless buildings built upon ancient burial grounds to lakeside retreats that house machete wielding maniacs, these locales can quickly become the most integral element to a horror film, plotting its narrative path and accommodating our fears. Insidious, Irish indie flick, The Canal, highlights just how important location can prove in crafting a successful series of scares.
David and Alice are young and in love. Alice is pregnant and the couple believe they’ve discovered the perfect family home. Five years later, and the despite the arrival of their son, the pair’s relationship has grown strained, a marital division made clear by the possibility that Alice is having an affair with a tall, dark and handsome colleague. One night Alice disappears, and while many – including a gruff detective portrayed by Sightseers’ Steve Oram – think that David is responsible, the increasingly fraught husband believes something otherworldly is afoot.
David’s occupation as a film archivist aids him in unearthing turn of the century footage and newspaper clippings that reveal his picturesque family home was once the sight of a grisly murder. Anecdotal evidence exposes that violent activity has plagued the premises for centuries, activity that may well be paranormal and residing in the walls. From here out a terrifying whodunit plot plays out as David desperately tries to protect his son, unravel the deadly secrets of his home’s history and discover what really happened to his missing wife while dodging the increasing suspicions of his friends, family and the police.
Several scenes reaffirm that an overt reliance upon the use of perspective, specifically forcing the viewer to share the same horrifying gaze as David as he attempts to capture the evasive ghostly presences on film, is a confrontational and incredibly unnerving genre convention that still has much mileage in the scare department. The picture’s visual flourishes are distinct and affecting, utilising a combination of grim, winter waterside realism with lurid trips into David’s nightmares. Casting is solid, especially in the case of Evans, Oram, and Calum Heath, who portrays David and Alice’s unsuspecting young son, while a disquieting soundscape effectively compliments the increasingly bleak scenarios which play out upon the screen.
There is however an unfortunate feeling that as the narrative progresses toward its startling finale, Ivan Kavanagh has attempted to shoehorn too many familiar tropes into his tale – in the process eroding some of the uniqueness that he established early on with his collapsing family dynamic. Yet despite such homages taking precedence, particularly from an aesthetic standpoint – Kill List’s claustrophobic tunnel dwelling, Sinister’s archive trawling and Ringu’s inter-dimensional creeping proving the most notable influences – such set-pieces remain intense and alarming.
A horror film that will perhaps prove more affecting to those yet to be desensitised by the genre’s most celebrated titles, The Canal is an assured and powerful piece of cinema that asks several questions of the viewer while forcing them to face many devilish fears head on.