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Saturday, April 19, 2014

THE CANAL: Tribeca Film Festival Review 2014

Photo by Piers McGrail
2014, 92 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Ivan Cavanaugh's The Canal is a disturbing, surreal, and well-acted film about an Irish man who begins to believe that his house might be haunted after the death of his wife.  Writing that last sentence sent shivers down my spine because of the memories that it's conjuring up.  The above is the most basic description of The Canal, but it is an apt one.  There's not much more to the story than that, but what makes this seemingly generic film stand out is the skill with which it was made.

Kavanaugh was obviously influenced by '70s horror, particularly Don't Look Now (referenced in the press notes) and Suspiria.  His use of candy-colored visuals, particularly in the film's last third, and wide slow-zoom shots are explicit references to the aforementioned films and harken back to a day when horror films were more suspense-driven.  While The Canal has a gory scene or two, most of its scares are jump scares and much of its suspense is generated from long periods of silence.

The Canal causes unease and unnerves because it teases us with surreal sequences of disturbing imagery without any explanation combined with sharp editing.  Present-day horror filmmakers feel the need to shock us with gore to make up for a lack of real thrills.  I have nothing against gore, but gore is nasty, not scary.  Filmmakers like Nicolas Roeg (Don't Look Now) and Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby) realized that milking suspense from their film's locations created suspense.  They saw that gore wasn't going to make their films terrifying.  Look at either film and there is little gore (save for a scene or two).  Roeg and Argento tease us with odd sound effects and surreal images, but don't reveal what they mean until the last minute.  Venice and a Manhattan apartment building became labyrinths of deception and violence in the aforementioned directors' films.  Cavanaugh uses his eerie Irish location to similar effect with similar techniques to elicit suspense.

Overall, The Canal is an unnerving horror movie that provides an excellent showcase for lead Rupert Evans and Robin Hill's editing.  The aforementioned artists' talents cannot go unmentioned, particularly Hill's, because so much of what makes this film effective is their work.  If Evans' lead performance wasn't so convincing, the movie would not have worked.  To "buy" a horror movie, so to speak, we must believe that what is happening onscreen is actually happening in that world.  If a performance is weak, we begin to laugh at the movie, and thus the realism of the film's world is broken.  The Canal is as good, if not far better, than any horror film around and should please both fans of classic horror and David Lynch.


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