The Canal is a small British horror film that came and went in 2014 without so much as a ripple in the water (pun fully intended).
A ghost story with a deep psychological edge, the film is a meditation on guilt, grief, and how our sins can live on. As a fairly new horror fan, I’m still in the stage where I’ll watch absolutely anything in the genre regardless of quality. This year alone I’ve watched Brahms: The Boy 2, Fantasy Island, Countdown, and the newest version of The Grudge and all of the are as bad as you would expect. Yet it never feels like I’m wasting my time. Then something like The Canal surfaces and I realise that, yes, compared to this, the others were utter shit.
The Canal may be my own objective ideal of a horror film. It’s a ghost story, a murder mystery, and an effective look at one man’s descent into madness after the death of his wife. That man is David, a film archivist who’s wife goes missing the night he has caught her cheating on him. This point is the crescendo of the first twenty minutes that turns the screws on David as his suspicions about his wife continue to grow. David himself seems extremely depressed, even before his marital fears, something that isn’t helped by footage of a murder that he is working with, the investigation of which was filmed over one hundred years ago. A murder that took place in David’s house.
That’s as much as I’m willing to say about the plot, but I will wax lyrical about The Canal’s presentation. This is an extremely atmospheric film, one that uses technology to show how certain events can live on a long time after they have happened. If a house can be described as holding an echo of a horrible death, what about film? And can this very film – the one that we’re watching – be that for us? The movie pushes against the boundaries of fiction in the way that all great horror does, reminding us that the worst of us can’t be contained to pure imagination.
Yes, it’s not a new idea, and The Canal does have to give some credit to both the Japanese and American versions of The Ring for this idea, but this film feels like a more oppressive watch than the others I’ve seen taking on the same ideas before. There’s ambiguity to what is happening, whether the hauntings are real, whether it’s a reaction to the sexuality of the women of the story (there is a reference to Cat People that sent me down that dark corridor, and I can’t reccommend it enough), I’m still not sure about the full answer.
The Canal works well in all of these levels, and is a film that deserves to be dragged up from its own dark waters – to take it’s place as the modern
by Kevin Boyle
Header Image: DVD Compare