Horror films are hard to mess up. Even if the script is terrible, filmmakers who can get a vulnerable character surrounded by creepy lighting and eerie noises can count on generating a sense of dread. Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (which screens at the festival for the last time tonight) contains moments that are undeniably tense, but the tension comes from time-tested, overly familiar techniques. Everything else—you know, the movie part—seems like an afterthought, like this is the horror movie as Mad Libs. Consider the film’s creepiest moment, which involves a webcam seeing something the characters don’t. It’s undeniably tense, but the technique is the cinematic equivalent of frying food: undeniably delicious, but thanks to chemistry, not the skill of the cook. It would’ve been harder to screw that scene up.
The film concerns whether a murder was committed by the victim’s husband or the ghost of a murderer who used to live in their house. Confusing, the film takes a little-bit-pregnant approach, implying both options are true with third-act twists that steal from movies that are otherwise the polar opposites of each other. There’s a sense that the film is driven less by story than a checklist of horror tropes: wide-eyed kid, grainy crime scene photos, occult rituals, etc. At one point the main character shouts, “They did it because baby’s blood is the most powerful!” Since the film skips the traditional scene of a professor in demonology providing exposition, there’s no way for him to know this unless he’s seen certain horror movies—presumably, the same ones the filmmakers swipe from.