J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Canal: Conveniently Located for Easy Body Disposal

Prepare yourself for the dark side of film preservation. When an archivist happens upon century-old newsreel footage of a grisly murder committed in his very home, it rather unsettles the family man. History may soon repeat itself, but it is unclear whether the evil agency is supernatural or psychotic in Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Initially, it would seem David has it all: a cool job, a hot Dutch wife, and a kid who is crazy about dinosaurs. However, he does not seem to command much respect at work or from Alice, the superior breadwinner in the family—a fact she is not about to let him forget. Long suspecting she is having an affair, David finally confirms her infidelity with his own eyes. Inconveniently, her murdered corpse is fished out of the canal behind their house shortly thereafter.

Naturally, the police immediately suspect David, because he could not possibly be more guilty looking. However, he quickly becomes convinced the malevolent spirit of their house’s former occupant is somehow to blame. He will duly wrestle with issues of haunting and possession while trying to help his son process his grief. He still looks guilty though.

Without question, The Canal takes the honors for the scariest public lavatory ever seen on film, right there on the banks of the canal. The entire film is a master class in horror film production design and cinematography, starting with the creepy as all get-out silent newsreel. Refreshingly, Canal is long on mood and short on gore, but it’s sexually charged waking dream sequences are definitely intended for a mature audience.

At times, there is almost too much interpersonal drama in The Canal, especially with regards to the mousy co-worker who only will carry her torch for David just so far. It is also an example why kids in horror movies should be used more sparingly. Nonetheless, the film’s ambiance and real estate are uncommonly creepy.

Rupert Evans maintains the ambiguity of cuckolded David’s sanity rather adroitly, but he is so pathetically whiny, we just want to slap him silly. In contrast, Steve Oram dials it down quite effectively as McNamara, the slightly cynical copper working the case. Sadly for all involved, Hannah Hoekstra is not around for long, but she makes a strong impression as Alice.

By genre standards, The Canal is a remarkably well crafted production. It is definitely horror for grown-ups rather than gum-smacking teenagers. Recommended as a Halloween fix for more sophisticated viewers, The Canal opens today (10/10) in New York at the Village East.

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