The Canal (2014)

*. I’ve said many times before that we don’t expect, and rarely even want, genre films to be all that original. The most successful of them offer only slight twists on convention.
*. The Canal walks a very fine line in this regard. I like it: it’s an effective little haunted-house movie about a man who comes to think he’s possessed by the ghost of a century-old killer. It’s the kind of film where you get to smile and nod at all the little borrowings from other horror films. The graffiti-covered restroom looks like a set from Candyman. The way David tries to point out the ghost of Alice to his son recalls the famous scene from The Innocents where Deborah Kerr sees Miss Jessel across the pond. The flour they put on the floor to reveal the ghost’s footprints is lifted from Paranormal Activity.
*. And then as you keep nodding you start to wonder if maybe you’re nodding a bit too much. Put another way, is there too much about this film that’s borrowed?
*. The most obvious borrowing comes when David watches old movies of some murders and it comes to seem as though the film itself is cursed in some way. It’s almost like some kind of haunted videotape . . .
*. Yes, this sounds a lot like Ringu. And the connection is made even stronger by the fact that ghost Alice is made up to look like garden-variety J-horror corpse, even down to having her long hair falling down over her face. By the time we get to see her crawling out of the screen to grab her victim we can’t be surprised.
*. It’s possible to mount a tepid defence of such a blatant steal (and here I will insert a spoiler alert). Since, as it (sort of) turns out, David is only imagining the demons, the fact that they appear in such mediated forms makes a kind of sense. He’s not just a jealous husband, but a jealous husband who has seen too many horror movies, so that when he enters a dissociative state he imagines himself being an actor in one of them. Alice isn’t crawling out of the screen, he’s crawling into it.
*. I wonder what deaf people imagine when the closed captioning reads “haunting sounds” or “eerie, demonic sounds.” Mostly it’s just creaking floorboards here.
*. The Canal is professionally put across in most departments, but tends to stick too close to conventions and familiar type characters like the dyspeptic detective, earnest girlfriend, and threatened child. I also thought that some great opportunities for milking more suspense were missed, like in the scene when David films the ghost of his wife by the canal. And yes, the ending was a total fudge. It’s a decent ghost story, but the whole package needed another turn of the screw.

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