What’s truly haunting about Ivan Kavanagh’s film is that it puts you inside the head of a man who’s life is slowly descending into a nightmare that he can’t wake up from. It’s because of this approach that allows the film to sneak up on you with its calculated and nightmarish spin on the haunted house genre. The Canal centers on a film archivist, David, who’s life is being consumed by stress when he suspects his wife is cheating on him. What’s worse is that while watching a reel of to-be-archived footage, David discovers that his house was the setting for a brutal murder in 1902. The stress of his wife and now the new footage only further drags David into a dark place as things start to unravel in terrifying fashion.
The Canal is the kind of movie that can really catch a lot of people off guard because on the surface it comes off very cookie-cutter as it starts with a seemingly perfect married couple moving into a new house with a baby on the way; we’ve seen that countless times, especially of the haunted house variety. But what sets The Canal apart is that it quickly saturates itself in an atmosphere that is very calculated and unnerving as you start to see David’s life unravel scene after scene. It’s like watching a nightmare unfold on screen, one that only gets more terrifying the longer it goes on. And that, to me, was the biggest draw of the film—once you start it, you have to finish it.
When you have a movie like The Canal, its biggest strengths are pulled from how well it can build on its tension. While it moves slowly, it moves with a purpose, and that purpose is to scare the absolute shit out of you during its final moments. But how do you actually make that work? Kavanagh does it not by trying to outright scare you, but rather letting the film itself creep up in a way that gets under your skin.
There’s a scene in which we see the inside of a coffin and all you hear through the silence is the heavy thud of dirt landing on top while it’s being buried. It’s just one of many chilling moments in the film that only fuels the fire as we slowly climb towards the end of David’s nightmare; the end in which Kavanagh holds absolutely nothing back. And by hold nothing back I mean that he delivers an absolute gut-punch of a finish that is so insane, so disturbing, that it almost disconnects itself from the rest of the film. It’s such an entirely different beast by the end that it practically pulls you in kicking and screaming.
Kavanagh has crafted a truly unnerving little film that perfectly captures the downward spiral of a man who’s trapped in a nightmare that is all too real. While it doesn’t always click and you’ll more than likely see where David’s character arc is headed from a mile away, it’s a hell of a film that builds a special kind of creepy-crawly tension. The kind of tension that’s earned, one grueling scene after another.