The Canal (3 stars)

The Canal

Suspenseful horror from Ivan Kavanagh featuring fine work from Rupert Evans

A strong cast shine in this chilling ghost story that recalls a host of classic horrors. When National Film Theatre archivist David (Rupert Evans) moves into a new house with his pregnant wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) they are still enjoying wedded bliss. Cut to a few years later and suspicious minds have taken over. Their relationship is on the rocks and even their young son Billy (Calum Heath) can sense the despair.

Through his job David finds out that they are in fact living in a murder house and when Alice mysteriously disappears he starts to get swallowed up by grief and guilt. We are taken through his psychological torment, with Irish writer-director Ivan Kavanagh ramping up the intrigue by not revealing too much too soon.

What sets this horror apart is that it is completely knowing in its references to silent cinema, as well as to the films of Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and producer Val Lewton, and modern Japanese titles such as Dark Water and The Grudge. It’s not only concerned with the troubling history of violence against women but also with invoking the ghosts of cinema past.

Kavanagh collaborates with editor Robin Hill (who worked on Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers) for the first time on this production and Hill's experimental approach adds a chaotic quality, furthering the disorientating ambience. Also on-board from Sightseers is Steve Oram as a gruff detective who suffers from acid indigestion, his presence adding some lightness to the otherwise dark material.

Evans is exceptional as a man on the brink of psychosis and there are more than a few nods to The Shining in his performance. The creative sound design, which occasionally utilises the piercing sound of a camera flash, successfully sustains the aura of dread. Though some of the plot doesn’t entirely add up, with a few ill thought-out reveals towards the end, the sinister atmosphere is enough to keep you teetering on the edge of your seat for most of the running time.

Selected release from Fri 8 May.

The Canal

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • Ireland
  • 1h 32min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ivan Kavanagh
  • Written by: Ivan Kavanagh
  • Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rupert Evans, Steve Oram

Film archivist David (Evans) comes to believe that the house he shares with wife Alice (Hoekstra) and young son Billy (Heath) is haunted. Disorientating horror full of knowing references to silent cinema, with Evans exceptional as a man on the brink of psychosis, and excellent, atmospheric sound design.