It’s a funny old genre, horror; the audience comes at it with expectations, always ready for the tricks and tropes they’ve come to know and ready to be delighted when expectations are skewered, but disappointed when they are distorted too far. They hunger for all the tricks that they know are brought out to scare them, yet are ready to roll eyes when these conventions are adhered to too strictly. It’s a well-known piece of wisdom that comedy is a difficult genre to get right – it is hard to make people laugh – but horror is similarly difficult: how does one frighten an audience, when that audience knows exactly how the director intends to frighten them?
The answer to this is usually either through character development or the building of atmosphere. Create an empathetic character, and viewers come to care what happens to them, which builds the tension as they fear for their onscreen protagonist. Alternatively, creaking floors, groaning doors, fleeting glimpses of shadows in the corner of an eye can develop an atmosphere of tingling flesh and nervous expectations. The Canal, an independent Irish horror written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh, falls firmly into the latter category.
David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist, living in a creaky old house by a canal with his wife and son, Alice and Billy. When Alice goes missing and is found drowned in the canal, David becomes obsessed with the sinister history of his home, and the strange happenings that are occurring around him.
Possible madness is not a new conceit in horror films, and has been done better elsewhere. The Canal brings nothing new to the horror table, playing on fears of the unknown and the dead. What it does, however, it does stylishly; the film is not without its scares. The atmosphere built by Kavanagh is creepy, and sound here is its strongest suit; like The Grudge before it, The Canal is full of whispers that send shivers down the spine.
The denouement is not so much of a shock, however the film builds to a final third that is jumpy, hair-raising and gory in equal measure. The Canal will disappoint some horror fans with its rigid adherence to convention, but is creepy enough to provoke a shiver of fear and, in the end, is that not exactly what a horror film should do?
The Canal is released nationwide on 8th May 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Canal here: