At this point Ireland is becoming my favorite source for independent horror films. Over the last ten years or so the Emerald Isle has graced us with impressive exports like Isolation, Stitches, Dark Touch, Outcast, Citadel, Wake Wood, Grabbers, Let Us Prey, and Dead Meat – so while it’s true that you’ll find great horror films from every corner of the globe, there seems to be a consistent level of quality that ties the Irish exports together. And you can toss another low-key but highly compelling thriller on to the list: Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal is a calm, cool, classy, and quietly effective tale of love, loss, guilt, insanity, and supernatural revenge from beyond the grave.
Slightly reminiscent of the recent (and excellent) Australian import known as The Babadook, The Canal is a ghost story/supernatural thriller on the surface, but just beneath that is a fascinating exploration of how terrifying it can be to raise a small child on your own. Given that The Babadook focuses on an unhinged mother and her potentially crazy kid, The Canal is about a young father who is forced to contend with some horrifying revelations after his wife is found dead in a nearby canal. But is David actually dealing with malevolent spirits from the past — or is he simply losing his mind and dragging his little boy along for the ride?
Mr. Kavanagh’s screenplay does a clever job of combining the potential threats; David and little Billy are clearly dealing with something dangerous, but is it their house or the spirit of poor Alice that’s causing all the trouble? Maybe the secrets lie within the highly unsettling 1902 police footage that David has recently discovered – or maybe it’s just that this poor guy has already gone way off the deep end, and all the spooky stuff is a figment of his messed-up brain. It all makes for a quietly intense and rather impressively restrained horror story, and since we quickly grow to care for David’s disturbing situation (and since little Billy is so darn adorable), there’s more at stake here than just a bunch of jump scares and bloody kills.
Anchored by a fantastic lead performance by Rupert Evans, bolstered by particularly strong support from Kelly Byrne (as a loyal but naive nanny) and graced with one of the best “little kid” performances in years (little Callum Heath is a real natural), The Canal is a wonderfully shot, cleverly written, and subtly effective horror movie that puts mood, tone, and character ahead of rote concepts or generic shocks. And yes, it easily earns a spot on that list of high-end Irish horror indies.
Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)
THE CANAL opens in selected UK cinemas on May 8 and is on US VOD now.