Horror Movie Marathon: Day 22 – The Canal

[SPOILER ALERT]     The Canal     [SPOILER ALERT]

watching-sunset-on-the-canal
“A depressed and stressed film archivist finds his sanity crumbling after he is given an old 16mm film reel with footage from a horrific murder that occurred in the early 1900’s.” IMDB

It’s day 22 of the Horror Movie Marathon! I had LASIK surgery recently and my eyes are not happy looking at a computer screen, so Mikey is typing my verbal responses. 

The Canal is not rated and is available on Netflix. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:

IMDB 5.9/10

Metacritic 55/100

Rotten Tomatoes 79% critics, 50% audience

It’s a typical fall day, although I’m having a difficult time enjoying it. We both take notes throughout the movie. Afterward, we conduct a simultaneous interview/discussion via Google Docs.

*****

Mikey: Christmas again!?

Solee: We’re going to have to analyze what percentage of our horror movies were Christmas-themed in our final round-up. It’s becoming such a common trope that I didn’t even notice it.

What I did notice was how freakin’ cute that kid was!

Mikey: Pshaw, kids. One of my notes, speaking of him, was that this movie has a horrifying ending.

Solee: We’re gonna talk about the ending already!?

Mikey: No, proceed onto other topics!

Solee: Well it’s clear from the beginning that the wife is cheating on her husband. “Steve from work” was not texting her about work.

Mikey: It gets even clearer and much more graphic later on. But the husband isn’t so innocent either, right?

Solee: Right, he’s cheating with his brain if not with anything else. So the tension is already established in this household, long before we learn about the previous tenants.

Mikey: Yes, perhaps the ghosts needed a wedge to get in.

Solee: Which is opposite The Amityville Horror, where the family felt pretty solid. There was a distinctive change in personality with the dad in that movie. In this movie, the dad seemed like he was on the edge of hitting her with a hammer anyway.

Mikey: I don’t see it to be that tense, he seems like a hapless, semi-clueless doof with a manipulative sneaky wife.  But then he seems to develop a clue at the same time he gets semi-sorta-possessed by a filmstrip?

Solee: Sorta possessed? He got way possessed! He got all disassociative, he was removing himself from his own memories. That is not a good sign. I know that because I took Psych 101.

Mikey: It felt like it was a progressive thing, but you’re right – it starts right off that first night with him killing her and having no idea he did. So I guess that was a pretty serious and sudden break with reality.

Solee: Through the whole movie, I wasn’t convinced he was possessed, and not having a mental breakdown instead. Even at the end, I was still not sure he wasn’t just crazy. In Amityville I totally felt like there were ghosts making him do things. The Canal feels more like The Exorcism of Emily Rose in that I’m not convinced it wasn’t all in his head.

Mikey: That’s an interesting perspective… there’s nothing in there that contradicts that, I believe. There’s that horrifying ending I mentioned, which suggests spooky things, but I suppose that his son could be having a similar breakdown.  Yeah, it does leave it open, with him being the only one who ever truly sees ghosts.  There is a brief final shot of his son’s ghost seen by someone else.

Solee: Which made her smile! That was a note I took: “Creepy realtor lady smiles at the kid she knows isn’t in the house”? She was up to something. She was also the one who didn’t tell them about the house’s history.

Mikey: You know, what we learned about the ghosts was some kind of cult stuff. It’s very possible that she is a living person who is in this cult, and brings people to the house to get locked into like the father and son appeared to be in the end. And the wife.

On another note, I noted multiple things in this movie that I recognized from other movies we’ve seen – The magic camera that sees ghosts from Paranormal Activity, skyping and seeing a ghost in the background of the shot from The Pact, and of course Zoolander hiding inside the walls from Zoolander (not actually, but Solee commented that it looked like Zoolander).  There was also a thing with red light all over the place, which I know I’ve seen used in other ghost movies. And of course Christmas like every horror movie ever made.

Solee: So what we’re saying is this movie was full of a lot of tropes (and Zoolander)?

Mikey: I don’t know, I think those are more like coincidences to me, rather than basic tropes, Except the Christmas thing, and of course red light.

Solee: One trope that I did notice is how there’s a parallel between the current family and the family that was involved in the previous tragedy. I was irritated about how obtuse he was being about the parallels, like I wanted him to notice “Hey, I have a nanny, and a son”. I wanted him to see where this was going, but it took him a long time to send the nanny and son away for safety.

Mikey: That’s a real classic ghost trope for sure. There’s always the parallels. Do you think that was more of a movie thing, or was it actually part of what the ghosts ‘needed’?

Solee: I think it is something the ghosts need, that they need to find somebody similar to them, the more similar the better.

Mikey: So there are probably ghosts in just about every house then, and most of them are super frustrated that nobody’s showing up who meets their profile!

Solee: Probably!

I liked the detective in this movie. He was surprisingly unlikeable, but that worked.

Mikey: By your theory, he was certainly right about everything. And even if it’s ghosts, he still was pretty much.

Solee: When the guy told him it was ghosts, the detective laughed at him, which I thought was amusing.

Mikey: So I want to say that this movie had some effective creepy imagery, not to mention a truly awful undead birth sequence.

Solee: Ugh, I marked that as the grossest scene we’ve seen yet.

Mikey: Yes, that was not good. But lots of creepy Korean-esque ghosts crawling around, and people hiding in walls.

Solee: Yes, who knew Irish ghosts were so similar to Korean ghosts?

Mikey: I picture Irish ghosts being very sheet-like and transparent, so I bet this is more about cultural influence than Irish tradition.

Solee: Yeah, I imagine them being all wraith-like on the moor.

Mikey: We had a bit of a moor here, with the titular Canal, but the ghosts were very solid and creaky. Zombie-ish.

Oh, and early on, when the guy is at the funeral for his wife, his wife’s mother (I presume) spent several minutes trying to make it clear to him that he should feel bad for his wife’s boyfriend who surely was also very sad about this. Ugh. Tasteless.

Solee: Her mom was awful.

Mikey: Which brings to mind your first point, that there was trouble in this marriage already. Everybody but the crazy guy saw this as a failed marriage and were just waiting for her to leave. So I think there’s a lot of darkness under there and support for the no-ghosts-just-crazy theory.

Solee: Yes, he was suffering from some serious denial. My whole last page of notes is me flip-flopping between him being controlled by ghosts and him being extremely psychotic. I just kept going back and forth.

Mikey: The movie really pushes this confusion with very clear ghost stuff going on, but then right towards the end, they reveal that all of that that you saw is very expressly not happening. It’s all what he thinks is happening, and reality is totally different. Which is more than an unreliable narrator, it’s a full-on liar of a narrator.

Solee: Which would normally make me crazy and make me dislike the movie. I don’t like being lied to and being misled by the movie. However, in this movie, I think he’s really lying to himself and that’s what we’re seeing. I think he really believed that there were ghosts controlling him.

Mikey: Oh I think the movie emphasizes that with all the re-written scenes he sees while roaming the sewers. He’s finally seeing the truth, and whether ghosts made him see things wrong or he was just crazy, we don’t know.

Solee: And when he died by being pulled down into the water, that could easily be him committing suicide once he’s realized what he did.

Mikey: That makes sense!

Solee: Which leads us to the ending. The last scene was very clearly and obviously leading up to this kid killing himself. But that very idea is so foreign to American films that my brain refused to accept that it was going to happen –

Mikey: So you substituted a new reality and didn’t see things as they really happened?

Solee: OMG I’m being possessed by a ghost! At least my ghost possesses me with happy thoughts. Anyway, when it did happen, even though I totally knew it was coming, it was a clasp-my-hands-over-my-mouth-and-gasp level of shock. I had forgotten this was an Irish movie, so when he jumped out of the car, my immediate thought was “Where did this movie come from?” because an American movie wouldn’t do that.

Mikey: It was definitely a very shocking ending, and I’m pretty jaded about this stuff, but it surprised me for sure. And it turns around an expectation, where you’d think the newly-ghostified dad would be looking out for his kid, but instead he was sucking him right into the darkness with him.

Solee: Again, it makes me think of Amityville Horror, where Jody who should’ve been protecting them was just trying to get them to join her.

Mikey: I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s a possibility! Her motives were quite vague.

Solee: She totally lied to that kid and told her if she jumped off the roof, she’d get to go see her Daddy!

Mikey: Oh yeah, she did. That kind of messes with my original Amityville theory about sucking up the souls, but oh well.

Solee: It doesn’t mess with it too much, because I think even well-meaning ghosts have such loneliness that they sometimes say what needs to be said to get themselves some company.

Mikey: And she was a little girl, who would be more inclined to think of herself that way, without considering what it means for the victim. But that’s the wrong movie! Let’s rate this movie!

Solee: This was one of those few movies that can get away with open-ended without seeming non-commital. I was captivated through the whole thing. I found the characters very interesting, and that means I’m going to give it a 4 out of 5.

Mikey: I think this was an effective horror movie, probably a step beyond most we’ve watched this month in terms of horror. It wasn’t about jump scares, it was about horribleness, which I have a PhD in. I liked it a lot, yet there’s something lacking that makes me not love it.  But I wanna respect the good stuff in here, and give it a 4 too.

To correct our relative shortage of both found footage and zombie movies this month, we’re gonna check out JeruZalem tomorrow – and that Z in the middle is big and red, so you know where this is going.

*If you have comments to leave specifically for Mikey, you can see this same interview/discussion posted here, on his website.

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