Throw Your Ghost Baby into the Canal…Or down the Well with Samara

It sucks when creepy atmosphere and good filmmaking are brought down a peg or two by writing that blatantly cribs from other films and a plot twist that you can see coming in the first fifteen minutes. Oh boohoo, woe is me. Let me dry my eyes on this roll of haunted film.

THE BEER: Ballast Point Fathom IPL

7% ABV

A Moleskine, a hound, and a bomber. My needs are simple.
A Moleskine, a hound, and a bomber. My needs are simple.

Ballast Point has been pretty popular in my neck of the woods lately, particularly the Sculpin IPA. I discovered a couple of weeks ago that Sculpin from the can makes for a great Sunday afternoon BBQ beer, so I was interested in trying out an India Pale Lager from the same outfit. For my palate, the only ingredient that truly differentiates the IPL from an India Pale Ale is the yeast. This just meant that the citrusy flavor of the hops were all the more pronounced without the interference of a lot of other flavors. The malt was more of a carrier for the hop aromas and flavors, much like a saponin base to a bar soap is a carrier for fragrance oils, but that made for an even (if slightly bitter) finish.

THE MOVIE: The Canal (2014)

Directed by Ivan Kavanagh

The Canal 2014
This is poster is much better than the cover art on Netflix streaming.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE CANAL

There is a lot of tension between what I expected / hoped for from this movie and what actually occurred, with many one-offs from films I have already seen. Alas, it’s another film that is not sure what it wants to be, and hence suffers from severe cinematic confusion.

The plot follows a film archivist named David (played by Rupert Evans) who, after the initial sequence where he shows a college class a gimmicky film reel of “ghosts” (but not really), goes to check out a house with his pregnant wife. Bracing for the Irish version of the “family moves into haunted house” trope, seeing a “Five Years Later” title card was a relief. Only for a few minutes, though.

The magic is clearly gone between David and his wife, Alice. She’s getting late night text messages from a “client”, staying out late, and participating in some exceedingly somber sexual intercourse with her husband.

One day, David receives old police film reels to archive that catalogue a family murder carried out by an enraged, jealous husband in 1902. To his distress, the murders occurred in his very own home. Not long afterward, Alice goes missing and her body is later fished out of the canal by police divers. David doesn’t take any time off of his film archiving job, and instead begins to develop a spirit-centric conspiracy about the house (or the canal? I’m not sure which…) and how many people it has taken out over the years.

In the process, he alienates everybody he knows and makes himself a prime suspect in his wife’s murder.

Maybe because he very obviously did it.

I think the competing monsters is what brought this movie down from what it should have been. First, there was the monster of the canal itself, which is definitely the sort of rushing waterway that would kill many a drunken stumbler. Then, there was the monster of the spooky film stock. Then there were the “demons in the walls” as well as some weirdo ghosts that haunt the public bathroom next to the canal. Lastly, there was that predictable monster inside. The man vs. himself theme is unleashed here as it is in a wealth of movies, televisions shows, and literature from The Shining to The Amityville Horror to Twin Peaks.

And unfortunately, you can tell the moment that David catches Alice banging her client exactly whodunnit.

Whereas none of my afore referenced works try to shield the fact that the main male protagonist is a danger to his family, however, The Canal tries. It really does try to get you on David’s side, but it falls short. You know that the ghosts you are seeing from straight out of the creepy old film strips are really just his hallucinations and transference. You know that the spooky woman that comes out of the screen like Sadako/Samara in Ringu/The Ring isn’t a curse worthy of J-Horror. It’s just his imagination.

And at the root of it, the disappointment probably stems from the fact that there’s nothing heroic about David. He isn’t trying to overcome alcoholism or provide for his family or get his wife back from the sexy dude who’s putting it in her. He’s a total patsy. And it’s not that upsetting to watch him lose against the “demons”, nor is it that surprising.

That said, as long as you aren’t expecting to be surprised by the plot, this is a good movie to play while you fold laundry.

Moleskine Special Editions