Rare is it that I find the need to find a film to scare me. I usually only need to watch the evening news (Ebola anyone?) or watch any political coverage to get my scares in. However, every once in a while, a film comes along the piques my interest in this arena and Ivan Kavanagh‘s The Canal is one of those films. After seeing the trailer, I was hooked (something that is also quite a rarity). So I gave it a spin and these are my thoughts…
Supernatural thrillers, which The Canal certainly is, tend to fall into two categories for me – ones that are so overwrought and silly, laughable, bordering on camp and those that offer genuine scares, that really get down to something primal and can affect you. Luckily for me, The Canal falls into the latter group. David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist, devoted husband and father. After viewing some new film that comes into his archive, he finds some chilling footage that involves the house in which he and his family are living. And it is here that things start to change. David suspects his wife (Hannah Hoekstra) of cheating on him and when he confirms these suspicions, the world as David knows it morphs into a nightmare that seems to only get worse and worse. As things spiral out of control for David, he leans on his coworker and friend Claire (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) who urges him to get help. Willing to ride out the nightmare, David puts himself and those around him in a danger that none of them can see except David. He is left with the ultimate dilemma – does he battle the demons confronting him or does he give over?
Kavanagh‘s approach to this material, while not overly original, hits the right tones. His incorporation of newsreel footage and early 20th century photographs add depth to the backstory of threat to David and his family. The usage of the eponymous canal as a place of dread and fear is quite effective and creepy, something that might not be expected for a reed-lined body of water that cuts through a part of Dublin where the movie was filmed. But the master stroke of this film is in its sound design. The work done by Patrick Drummond, Robert Flanagan, Aza Hand and Colm Mullally is simply astounding. Whereas the images may well have done the trick sans the sound, it is without a doubt that the sound gives this film an extra layer of texture that lifts it above its competition this Halloween season. Upping the creepy factor to 11, the sound designers created chills that I never expected and gave additional life to this film. Bravo to them. The performances were quite wonderful. Evans and Campbell-Hughes shined and Kelly Byrne‘s turn as the nanny Sophie was equally up to the task. The ending I can see being polarizing and I really loved it. Incredibly unexpected and worth the journey that we take with David.
The Canal is as well rounded of a horror that I’ve seen in the last five years. Flush with all the attributes one would want and need this Halloween, this film should be at the top of the list for all.
And lucky for me, I was able to have a chat with star Rupert Evans about the film. He was gracious enough to take time out of filming in Seattle for his new project, The Man in the High Castle, which is based on the Philip K. Dick novel.
Here’s what Rupert had to say about the film. Be aware, there are some spoilers ahead…
You have worked in all mediums of performance – stage, TV and film – which shows your great versatility. Do you prepare differently for a role in each medium or do you prepare the same?
Preparation for any role is always different depending on the media and the role itself. With The Canal, what excited me most was David goes through an incredible journey. Every actor strives for a character that goes through an extraordinary path and journey.
You and and the boy who played your son, Billy (Calum Heath) had a very nice rapport with one another. Do you have children of your own? You seemed very comfortable. Was there rehearsal time with Calum prior to filming?
No, not that I know. (laughs)
I was very adamant when I met Ivan – this kid is going to be instrumental. We had to find a kid who was very naturalistic and real. Calum couldn’t really know what the movie was about because it was really scary stuff, so we had to take that into account. We spent a lot of time together and became really close. I was his father on-set, nit just in the role. We played a lot and we worked really hard to create a genuine relationship. He cried at the end of filming. We became very attached to him.
Since I became a father, the way I notice fathers’ roles in films has changed. I find that the way I perceive the characters depends largely on their parenting skills. The part where you lock Billy and Sophie (Kelly Byrne) into the closet made me cringe badly because if the ghosts were in between the walls, it appears you put them right into the Lion’s Den. Did you have any reservation doing that? Or was this something that you felt David would have done in the state he was in?
In that moment, he definitely heard the sound of the “intruder” and believed that would be the safest place in the house. He wanted to gain some semblance of control. It’s all about control. He knew they were there and no one could get to them. Ivan wanted to use a dark space.
Was there anything in the script that gave you reservations about doing the role?
No reservations from me. When you take a job, you never know what the outcome is going to be. Film is such a director’s medium and the sound design and editing played such huge roles. As an actor, you can change the way the audience views a character and that’s powerful. I’ve done a couple of horror films now, and the characters were natural and appealed to me much in the same way that David did in this film.
The sound design in the film in really quite amazing and adds a whole set of layers that really enhance the creepiness of the film. I was wondering when you had a chance to see a final cut of the film? Did it live up to your expectations of what was being filmed?
The film was shot in Dublin. I had to leave directly after film to work on something for the BBC. I went back to Dublin to do voice over and additional dialogue and didn’t actually see the film until the Tribeca Film Festival. It was really weird to see it. There were some things I was frustrated with and some things very raw. I had to watch it a couple of times to grasp it.
Since I watched this film fairly late at night, it definitely added to my dreamscape when I went to bed afterwards. Did you have nightmares while filming?
No (laughs). I was TOO exhausted.
I can only imagine.
Once again, a big shout out to Rupert Evans for taking the time to chat with me about the film. The Canal is now playing in selected theaters around the country and is available On Demand via Amazon and VUDU.
Get there, people. This one is perfect for the season.