The Canal Explained- Rupert Evans Displays Psychosis, Demons, And Insomnia
The 2014 Irish film from Ivan Kavanaugh is heavy on atmosphere and stylish scares. The Canal is a mindbender the likes of Amityville Horror and Sinister. There is not a ton of gore, but what there is is spectacularly disgusting. Vicious stabbings and one of the most inventive and graphic birth scenes I’ve ever seen grace the screen along with loving shots of a skin-crawlingly gross bathroom. The type of plot devices utilized in The Canal has been done before in movies like Daniel Isn’t Real and Babadook. In some cases, those movies used the tricks better. What Kavanaugh’s movie does well is borrow from the best of these films and stitch together a thoroughly enjoyable film that is as twisty, and it is scary. Occasionally those twists are more manipulative than effective, but even then they will make you smile wryly.
Heavy Spoilers Ahead…….
David played perfectly by Rupert Evans(Charmed) is having a bad day. Hell, he’s having a bad year. His wife has been having an affair for a year, which he just realized, and now she is missing. To make matters worse, he has begun watching an alarming set of film to be archived as part of his job. His young son is about the only thing keeping him sane, and that’s not working all that well. Little by little, he loses his grip with reality as he tries to prove there is something supernatural at play, and he isn’t going crazy. When his wife turns up dead, all bets are off. Who or what killed her and who else is in danger becomes Davids’s obsession.
Something is stalking David. It might be his guilt, or it might be a demon. It’s hard to tell. When his wife is found drowned, he begins a downward spiral. Convinced he sees ghosts, he begins filming himself and the house. That footage seems to show there is a paranormal entity lurking. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator, though, so it’s impossible to tell where his delusions end and any hauntings begin. Weird things keep happening like papers that rustle for no reason and shadowy figures who hover in the corner of your eye. It all could be the product of one deranged mind. He has constant flashbacks to bloody walls.
Is David Crazy?
David is undoubtedly troubled, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something stalking him. Like the old joke, just because your paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you, David is driven mad by the spirits haunting him. They whisper in his ear, prevent him from sleeping for days on end, and wipe his memory. Before even moving in, David sees someone in the house when touring it with Alice. He did not know about the past events that we are aware of and had not seen the film footage yet.
Either he has slowly been going mad over the last five years and has no memory of killing Alice and Claire, or he has been driven crazy by the demon. The final result is the same, so it doesn’t matter. By the end, he knows he killed Alice and Claire, but that doesn’t mean they he was entirely at fault. The demon controlled several of the home occupants prior to David, so Occam’s Razor dictates he was also a victim. The more straight forward answer is killing his wife caused him to break with reality and invent everything that came after. That doesn’t explain Billy though.
Is There Really A Ghost Or Demon?
No one can hear anything in the walls or see anything on film but David. He repeatedly takes recordings of his house and the canal alongside, but despite him believing Claire saw something, there was nothing there. The only time there is an exception to this is when the real estate agent, in the end, sees Billy go into his bedroom at the very end. Ultimately he killed Alice and then Claire despite what he thought happened. He finally came to terms with it in the end when he flashback to each murder and what really happened.
A clue that this is the accurate memory is the fact that he is so shaken after seeing his wife have sex with her boyfriend he shales and vomits. He is sweating profusely and upset some time after seeing her. Something happened, and he did it. It had nothing to do with the hammer, though, as one might think. Strange voiceover mingled in David’s mental haze is Alice’s cries for mercy when she falls in the canal. We aren’t aware of it until later, though.
Since we know Billy jumped out of a moving car somewhere across town, it stands to reason he is now a ghost and has returned home to be with his parents. It’s also more than a little likely that David allowed himself to drown rather than risk killing any more people. The demon disguised as his wife was probably just another form the demon took.
Is The House Haunted?
Most definitely! There is no question. Regardless of David’s wacky behavior, there is something in the house, and it has just been waiting for a way in. We know David hasn’t been sleeping well for a while. That, coupled with his fragile state of mind, allowed the ghost/demon to affect his behavior directly. If he weren’t susceptible, there likely would not have been any trouble.
He was sleep-deprived, insecure about his marriage, and vulnerable to manipulation. The well-timed film arriving for archiving was all the push he needed to see the ghosts. We know the demon lives there. There may or may not be additional ghosts as the demon can project fears into minds. With David’s view being our only POV, there is no way of knowing if other ghosts actually exist. I suspect they do not. Billy lives there as well now, although it is questionable whether his father is the one who whispered to him or just another trick of the demon.
Who Told Billy To Jump Out Of The Car?
Billy saw one single eye of his father and heard him explain how to be with his parents forever. That doesn’t mean David actually told Billy to kill himself. This particular demon can shapeshift and bend perception to suit his whims. Knowing what we do about David, there is no way he would have told Billy to commit suicide since he sacrificed himself to save the boy in the final act. The demon controlled everything the original occupants and everyone who lived thereafter saw. It was all an illusion designed to wreak the most havoc.
What Is Actually On The Archived Film?
We see snippets of the film several times throughout the movie. The first is in the opening moments of the film. Quick cuts of the footage are shown shortly after being introduced to David and Claire. Among the images are police crime footage from a stabbing and ritualistic markings. It does raise the question of the genesis of the demon. Did the man who killed his wife in 1902 summon the demon, or was he another hapless victim? The archived footage indicates there was demon worship in the house it just does not give a timeline for the demon’s presence in the house. The footage is no more dangerous than any home movie. It just features disturbing images which ripen David’s mind for takeover.
Why Does The Real Estate Agent Smile When She Sees Billy’s Ghost?
It is a final throwaway moment that could be as simple as smiling at her silliness for seeing something that wasn’t there or something more sinister(pun intended). The Canal loves to zig when we think it will zag, and this one final second is a prime example. Just when you think you have it all figured out, Kavanaugh throws in one last zinger. David says earlier in the film; the agent never told them about the murders when they bought the house five years ago. If she knew about the murders before and sees Billy now she could be an instrument of the demon to lure more people to the house. she might just really want a fat commission.
I was reminded of another psychological great and a personal favorite of mind Session 9, when watching The Canal. In that film, Gordon may or may not be slowly going insane after spending time in a haunted facility. In both movies, the surroundings play a significant role in what happens. Both films also feature a twist ending. Sure, you will probably see it coming, but that doesn’t make the ride any less enjoyable. For those who love head-scratchers and moody slow burns, you will enjoy The Canal. Bonus for all horror lovers, there is a shout out to Cat People, one of the quintessential psychological thrillers of all time. Someone has great taste! You can stream The Canal On Tubi now for free.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.