Feel­ing the chill

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE CANAL Di­rected by Ivan Ka­vanagh. Star­ring Ru­pert Evans, An­to­nia Camp­bell-Hughes, Steve Oram, Hannah Hoek­stra, Calum Heath, Kelly Byrne. Cert 16, gen­eral re­lease, 94mins Have you ever won­dered: why has no cine­matog­ra­pher ever sought to cap­ture the thou­sands of glo­ri­ous greys that de­fine Ir­ish skies? Piers McGrail, the 2015 re­cip­i­ent of the Michael Dwyer Dis­cov­ery Award and the DOP for Glass­land and The Canal, is the an­swer. McGrail’s moody lens­ing sets the tone for Ivan Ka­vanagh’s ea­gerly awaited fifth fea­ture.

With a curt­sey to­wards The Shin­ing – check out Ceiri Tor­jussen’s dis­cor­dant score - The Canal con­cerns film ar­chiv­ist David ( Hell­boy’s Ru­pert Evans), who, in the course of his du­ties, dis­cov­ers that his el­e­gant Ge­or­gian home, was once the scene of a bru­tal, turn-of-the-cen­tury mur­der spree.

This dis­cov­ery dove­tails with a sus­pi­cion that his glam­orous wife Alice (Hannah Hoek­stra) is hav­ing an af­fair. When Alice goes miss­ing, tough, no-non­sense cop­per McNa­mara ( Sight­seers’ Steve Oram) im­me­di­ately sus­pects David, who reacts by re­treat­ing fur­ther into the cen­tury-old mur­der footage and by cling­ing des­per­ately – both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively – to his young, di­nosaur-ob­sessed son (Calum Heath).

Is our hero crack­ing un­der the pres­sure? Is he guilty? Or is a more su­per­nat­u­ral agent at work?

Direc­tor Ivan Ka­vanagh first came to promi­nence with a dip­tych of winc­ingly pow­er­ful dra­mas – Our Won­der­ful Home and The Fad­ing Light – crit­i­cally adored, award-laden films that worked to anoint the direc­tor as a dig­i­tal-age Ing­mar Bergman.

This is not the Ka­vanagh joint we were ex­pect­ing: Never Grow Old, his west­ern, is still on the drawing board. But the film­maker has flirted with hor­ror be­fore: Tin Can Man, fin­ished in 2007 and reis­sued in 2012, was a sus­tained and sur­real creep-out.

The Canal, though re­liant on at­mo­spher­ics and su­perb sound de­sign, looks and feels more than genre cinema than Ka­vanagh’s ear­lier, freakier one.

Even op­er­at­ing within this es­tab­lished frame­work, there are vir­tu­oso mo­ments: odd, dis­jointed ed­its muddy the line be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity, half-glimpsed fig­ures dart around the edges of the frame, low-an­gle shots make for psy­cho­log­i­cal un­ease, and a dirty public lava­tory se­quence makes the viewer yearn for the com­par­a­tively san­i­tary con­di­tions of the Ed­in­burgh equiv­a­lent in Trainspot­ting.

Where has all the Bergman gone? Sit tight for the gut-punch epi­logue. You’ll see.

Ru­pert Evans and Calum Heath in The Canal

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