Sorry for the delayed post… but, sometimes life gets in the way. Though, to be fair, I also kind of blame the movie Netflix chose for me yesterday. Usually, I write my post immediately after watching the movie. The Canal (which, I will be talking about in more detail below) was so confounding that I decided to go for a walk and mull it over. An hour later, I got home, felt like I had digested the movie enough to write about it when my girlfriend called about a last-minute apartment viewing. If any of you have tried renting an apartment in the Boston area for September, you know that a chance at getting a place preempts nearly anything… I mean anything… if it was between the funeral of a loved one and seeing an apartment, I would honestly have to think about it. So, I guess the moral of the story is that I am going to try my hardest to keep to a daily schedule, but due to the stress and hectic nature of apartment hunting, things may come up. In the end though, don’t expect more than a one day gap between posts… even if it’s just me checking in quickly to let you know I’m still alive.
Now, on to The Canal, one of the oddest modern “horror” movies (more on the quotation marks shortly) I’ve seen. I know I always start with a basic recap of the film and I guess I’ll try to keep the streak alive… that being said, I want to warn you that the plot (as described my myself and talked about similarly on Wikipedia) doesn’t always connect with what’s actually occurring on the screen. Here we go. The Canal is an Irish movie from 2014 about a man who works in the national (maybe) film archives. He is given a box of recently donated film from the police. He begins watching the films (which are from the turn of the 20th century) and discovers that the house he and his family live in was the scene of a grisly murder. Images from the film, including the murderer, begin to intrude on his life. Meanwhile his wife goes missing. The movie then turns into a did-he-or-didn’t-he film while he continues to investigate the history of the house.
Writing that summary made me want to watch the movie again… then I realized, that’s not the movie I watched. Yes, that is technically the plot of the film… but that’s not what the film is about… and, to be perfectly honest, it’s been nearly 24 hours and I’m still not sure what the film is about… and, I don’t mean that in a fun, weird, confounding way… I feel like the filmmaker (writer/director Ivan Kavanagh) may not know what this movie is about… and, if he does, he didn’t do a great job expressing it. Now, here’s the weird thing, after all that, I’ve decided that I don’t hate the film (at least not as much as I think I should). While being monotonous and confounding, the movie still has something to offer.
First, let me address the quote-unquote horror statement above. There are clearly horror elements to the movie. Perhaps the most in-your-face example is towards the climax of the film where a scene from The Ring is borrowed from (heavily). There is an atmosphere of dread in the film… though, not necessarily fear (at least, that’s not what I experienced). In addition, there is a great deal of gore, though usually portrayed in still photography. This accomplishes the dual goals of disturbing the viewers while also avoiding feelings or being gratuitous. The movie was clearly going the intellectual/classy route, which, in horror movies is difficult to pull off (maybe impossible… in fact, there must be an example, but I’m drawing a blank (it must be the apartment hunting stuff (and hoping that I’ll still be getting paid this summer… that’s too much of a real-life horror to discuss here))… come one guys (and gals… I mean guys in the gender-neutral way) help me out here… give me some examples). Kavanagh attempts to accomplish this by playing with the tenants of horror movies (and not in a nose-thumbing-Scream way or wink-at-the-camera-Cabin-in-the-Woods way). He does this by morphing back and forth between horror-movie scenes and scenes straight out of a who-done-it’s (there almost a Gone Girl feel at times). This can be frustrating, but it also keeps you guessing. It also means that you have to watch the film very closely… which, I realized I wasn’t doing at first. One of the issues with watching so many horror movies is that you begin to anticipate… there are only so many ways to do a horror movie. So, to be honest, sometimes I let my mind wander (though, “let” implies that it’s a conscious decision, when, in reality, it is completely unconscious) and suddenly I would realize I had no idea what was happening. Key pieces of information (or clues) are revealed in discussions or research of still images. That means if you look away, you may become completely lost.
So, with all that, why didn’t I hate the movie? Well, there are really three reasons I think that this movie works (at least a little bit). The first reason comes down to acting. The entire movie rests on the shoulders of the lead actor, Rupert Evans, who handles the weight without crumbling. He is tasked with portraying a person who you, as the viewer, can’t know is crazy or if all of his ideas make some kind of weird logic. Evans does an amazing job of making you question your beliefs about his character’s sanity from one scene to the next. I’m talking about acting here, so I really can’t move on without mentioning the kid who plays his son… I really don’t like to critique child actors, but yikes… not good (I’ve written, deleted, and re-written that line at least ten times and decided I shouldn’t include it… but, I’m trying to be honest in my reaction to the film I guess I should include, and honestly, I just couldn’t stand when that kid was on the screen… but, to be completely fair, he’s five… so, I don’t think it’s his fault… really, the filmmaker just put him in the film as a prop… something to up the tension and fear… but it’s still a prop that talks and (tries to) emote… so, how can I not comment on it… I swear I don’t hate kids (at least not all kids… my nephews are great)).
The second thing that elevated this film was the music. The filmmaker used music (and the lack of music in many cases) as music should be used in films… it was an emotion-manipulator. With just the view of a dark alley and deep tones the viewer suddenly feels soul crushing dread. This leads to the third, and most important, element of the film… the pacing. This movie is extremely monotonous and methodical. These may not seem like favorable adjectives, but in this case they are. This is because the movie is constantly moving in a single direction: increasing dread. By the end of the movie you almost feel overwhelm with, buried beneath, or drowning in the sensation. Again, I want to state that it’s not scary (though there are a few scary and disturbing moments in the film), but it does make you feel the weight of dread and anxiety. This all leads to a disturbing (if not, completely satisfying) finale. So, if you’re looking for a slow-burn of a movie that will elicit a very specific feeling, and are okay with your horror movies being a bit arty and really more of a suspense movie than a horror movie, this may be worth checking out. Just don’t expect to be completely satisfied at the end… though, it will probably stick around your brain for a couple of days.
Wow… that was a long one. I figured it would be much, much shorter, but clearly this film affected me.