The Canal (2014)

When I started thinking last night about my review of The Canal, I was pondering whether I could really capture the spirit of the the movie’s slow disintegration of reality without delving deep into spoiler territory. See, there’s this sad faced Irish film archivist, played by a guy I had never heard of before a couple of years ago, but who plays an oppressed Jew in The Man in the High Castle and also the Watcher-equivalent in the Charmed reboot, and so basically he’s all over TV now, reliably playing the same sad faced character type (although to be fair the meat behind each of the characters is substantially different). And he learns that his house was the scene of a sensationally grisly century-old murder the same week he receives an emotional shock, which sends him into a haunted (whether literally or metaphorically is at the heart of what the movie is about) downward spiral.

It’s basically treading the same ground as Paranormal Activity, except if it’s not found footage so much as an external camera recording the guy creating the footage, and if it were crossed with a crime drama. Which, that’s not a “crossed with” I personally have seen before, and it’s fair enough. Only, while I was back at the beginning of the first paragraph thinking about how to explain all that in non-spoiler fashion, I came to an unexpected realization, which I can only explain by for sure getting into spoilers: it is that I don’t actually care about any of that, because of a critical flaw at the heart of the film’s conceit.

Thusly, a spoiler space break.

So, the thing is this. I have definitely seen movies before where some guy who has been done wrong suffers a complete break with reality and takes actions outside of his own conscious control, so you have the tension between what he sincerely believes is happening and what is actually happening, and despite everything he comes across as sympathetic. Like I said, I haven’t seen that crossed with a ghost story, entwined at such a fundamental level that it’s feasible both that this was a psychotic break and simultaneously that evil spirits are the prime movers of events.

But whenever I’ve seen the same movie where it’s a chick who snaps? She’s just the bad guy. There’s no sympathetic angle through which to view her, no ghosts to blame, no big dramatic reveal where she comprehends and regrets the monstrous acts she has taken without the knowledge of her own better nature. Because, like I said, she’s just bad. What regrets? What sympathetic angle? What other entity to blame?

Or maybe I just keep missing that one. Man, this sucks, because I don’t generally find it interesting to judge a movie based on what it is not doing, but… I guess I just reached the “one too many” limit here. Which is sad, because it really was creepy and affective, to the point of the skin on my scalp actually crawling during the last big supernatural scene.

Oh, also, there’s a canal.

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