The Story: Things get weird for a mild-mannered film archivist when he finds out that his wife is cheating on him… and that they’re living in a house where a husband brutally murdered his wife in 1902.
Expectations: I watched this one based on the recommendation of my buddy Elric Kane, one of the Rondo Award-winning hosts of the Killer POV / Shock Waves podcasts and an eternal champion of Andrzej Zulawski’s film POSSESSION (1981). Elric likes arty, cerebral, often surreal horror. So do I.
Reaction: Sometimes I find it difficult to watch certain horror movies when I know that my two-year-old is asleep in the next room. THE CANAL was one of those movies.
At first it’s a straightforward story about a marriage that is fizzling out. It starts turning dark when David (played by Rupert Evans, of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) becomes suspicious of his wife. Then, rather abruptly, it turns into an almost Lynchian portrait of madness. THE CANAL doesn’t ever get quite as abstract as LOST HIGHWAY, but the notion of a “psychogenic fugue” came to mind as the film danced around the question of whether its protagonist was delusional or murderous (or both).
Equally intriguing were the film’s vague musings on the trustworthiness of cinema. When David starts seeing things, his response is to film them. As an archivist, he trusts raw footage to provide objective truth—and thus to tell him whether he’s delusional or not. As a horror film fan, this seemed almost silly to me. Film is an inherently dreamlike medium, and horror films have been exploiting their potential to distort reality since the days of German Expressionism. As a narrative, THE CANAL continues that tradition, remaining ambiguous about the reliability David’s perspective until the final reel—which, unfortunately, seemed like a bit of a foregone conclusion.
By the end, I was much less concerned about David's mental state than about the well being of his son. The poor kid loses his mother and sees his father going mad, and through it all he remains perfectly calm—on the surface. One of the supporting characters reassures us that children are more resilient than adults, but all I could think was that the events of the film must be psychologically damaging that kid for life. His father abandons him, time and time again, to chase his mysterious obsession... which made me want to scream at the deadbeat dad to pay attention to what really matters. At the same time, I sympathized with the father’s frustration over his obvious inability to protect his child—because he doesn’t know what he needs to protect his son from. For me, that's when the real horror movie began...
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: With the exception of THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, this is the most chilling film I’ve seen so far this Halloween season. It gets my vote for Scariest Skype Session Ever. And that ending….