Atmosphere trumps everything else in The Canal, a stylish Irish horror film that feels like a David Fincher–helmed Edgar Allan Poe homage. Piers McGrail’s nuanced, moody cinematography brings out the best in writer-director Ivan Kavanagh’s over-mannered but effectively creepy ghost story.
You may not care who lives or dies by film’s end, but you will want to get lost in beautifully shot images of waving reeds and dark-haired phantoms. Case in point: It’s hard to be moved by the sudden death of Alice (Hannah Hoekstra), wife of film archivist David (Rupert Evans). Alice reveals almost nothing about herself before she’s dispatched within the film’s first 30 minutes, right after David watches century-old footage of a murder that occurred in his family’s new home.
These brusque introductory scenes are crafted to feel as disjointed and unyielding as the documentary film–within-the-film that David initially pores over. Kavanagh reveals more of David’s character through the ostentatious use of disorienting jump-cuts than he does in any of David’s expository conversations with suspicious policeman McNamara (Sightseers‘ Steve Oram).
Thankfully, accomplished set pieces — like the one where David films a ghost while kittenishly shy son Billy (Calum Heath) hides nearby, or David’s violent vision of ghosts lurking behind his home’s walls — prove strong enough to make up for the film’s jerky pacing and make The Canal a memorably disturbing experience.