The-CanalDirector/screenwriter Ivan Kavanagh comes off as something of a dilettante in his new horror film, The Canal. Kavanagh dabbles in the subgenres of scary movies, never settling on a single theme or approach. Is this a psychodrama or a ghost story? Are there real demons behind the walls of the house or are those sounds just the voices inside a jealous husband’s head? Does that 100-year old archival film showing murders along the same canal indicate a spectral presence that now haunts a public bathroom in the area or is the laconic Irish police detective right in his assessment of the situation? We always think it’s the husband, he explains to the husband, because it’s always the husband – every time.

The Canal is a plucky little Irish fright film that punches above its weight in delivering a few timely jolts. Even as the movie suffers from its minor identity crisis, Kavanagh keeps a brisk pace, working his way steadily, if unspectacularly, through the 92-minute runtime. He is given considerable aid in this effort by the quirky, albeit talented cast assembled by casting director, Colin Jones. The ending is the best part of the entire movie (and that’s always a plus considering how many horror films rely on stock finales) and reveals that Kavanagh possesses a bit of a sick, twisted soul that the film could have used more of.

The set-up here is textbook. A nice couple named David and Alice, who are expecting a child, buy a house. Five years later, one half of the couple is not so nice. In this case, it is Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) who may be providing a special service, off the books and after hours, to one of her clients. David (Rupert Evans), a film archivist, is having some of his own workplace issues as the obvious-to-everyone-but-him co-worker (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) who is in love with him keeps giving him creepy old movies that show the area where David lives as the site of some gruesome murders more than a century ago.

David follows Alice to her assignation one evening, and it’s a night to remember, if only he could. David winds up in the devil’s own public toilet, and Alice ends up in the canal. Kudos to production designer Stephanie Clerkin and art director Patricia Douglas for fashioning the most disturbing toilet seen on film since Witching and Bitching. Suddenly, David’s a single dad to son, Billy (Calum Heath), but live-in nanny Sophie (Kelly Byrne) is there to lend a hand and to have us wonder if she’s next for an impromptu swim in the canal.

The encroaching police investigation of Alice’s demise nicely matches the escalating madness for David within his house, although not every gimmick employed by director Kavanagh works. The jump cuts are not particularly effective, and his putting a century-old camera in David’s hands to capture ghostly images comes off as labored. By way of contrast, his filming of Alice’s burial is both disturbing and brilliant. Hannah Hoekstra, a Dutch actress, seems an odd choice for the part, but it’s a case where the viewer misses her and anppreciates her talents after she’s gone. Evans is strong in the lead, although a touch too virile to play a convincing cuckold.

Campbell-Hughes as the smitten co-worker Claire is something close to amazing in her limited time on the screen. She has a scene that sounds preposterous on the face of it – she kisses David even as she asks him if he killed his wife. Yet, the moment is not lost to unintentional laughter because of her intensity. Steve Oram as the seen-it-all detective is another gem in the supporting cast of a film that comes off as something more than the sum of its parts.

Two and a half stars.

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