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Canal, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite one for the archives, but not bad."
3 stars

"The Canal" opens with a bit that's almost too clever for its own good, with film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) standing on stage and asking an audience full of unruly children if any want to see some ghosts, finishing the introduction with a sort of "here we go" before the main titles roll. It's an odd thing, because the movie isn't particularly self-referential after that, and while it's nice to see filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh going for honest, relatively undiluted scares, there's a bit of a seems that the movie could use something to grease the rails a bit, and maybe a little more of that could have done it.

Soon after that scene, David is moved into a new house with his beautiful wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and, eventually, their son Billy (Calum Heath). He seems to enjoy his work, at least until one bit of film from 1902 crosses his desk. It's from the police archive, and shows scenes from the investigation of a grisly murder that happened at his house. That's unsettling under any circumstances, and just not a good thing to have running through one's head when ones five-year-old soon is hearing noises at night and one's wife is probably having an affair with a wealthy client.

Every once in a while I get the itch to try and write a screenplay, but the middle part scares me off. I'm not saying that clever set-ups or thrilling climaxes come easy, but they seem more likely to be the product of inspiration than what connects them, which seems more obviously like hard work for the filmmaker and can, if he or she is not careful, seem that way to the audience. Kavanagh sometimes seems to struggle with this with The Canal; it runs around in circles as David points cameras at prospective ghosts a lot or panics and sends his son and the nanny (Kelly Byrne) back and forth based on where the last thing to freak him out was. As in a lot of horror movies, elements can seem somewhat randomly thrown together rather than supporting a central idea.

Around that, though, The Canal is often pretty good. It has a genuinely nifty hook and is committed to going creepy places, going far enough toward the end that I raised my eyebrows in surprise at it going somewhere and the less seasoned horror viewers around me gasped a bit. Kavanagh does some neat things, like shooting the 1902 sequences with period-appropriate cameras and having David undergo a nice slow deterioration. There's a little scene at a funeral that would be terrific in any story about dealing with loss.

It could, perhaps, use some more forceful performances from the cast. Rupert Evans is probably hitting the nail on the head by having David come off as kind of pathetic - there's a kind of beaten look on his face through much of the movie, even though he does get to mix it up a bit as he becomes more panicked later on. Hannah Hoekstra, Kelly Byrne, and Calum Heath aren't bland, but they're playing very general types. Steve Oram, at least, gets to have some claws out as the detective investigating what's going on.

There's enough good in this movie that I wonder if Kavanagh could take maybe fifteen minutes of the rest out, bringing it down to the seventy-five minutes that is about the ideal length of a horror movie, or at least swap them out with something that built a theme up a bit more. There's enough good bits here to make "The Canal" worth a look, even if it does feel like it could have done more.

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originally posted: 11/15/14 15:22:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

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