TFF2014: The Canal Interview

          The Canal, an Irish horror film screened at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is a tricky film to discuss without spoiling, so read with caution.  So much depends on the ambiguous, Turn of the Screw-likedivide between haunting and insanity that viewers are likely to have all sorts of takes on the movie.  “I have an opinion myself of what’s really happening,” director Ivan Kavanagh says in his distinctive Irish brogue, “but that doesn’t mean other people can’t have equally valid interpretations.  If you want to see it as absolutely supernatural I think that’s great, if you want to think that it’s all in [the main character’s] head, or that it’s a combination of the two, I think that’s great as well.”

            The film focuses on David (Rupert Evans), a married father and film archivist who discovers his home has a grisly history, and begins to suspect both that his wife is being unfaithful and that malevolent forces are threatening his family.  I sit down with Kavanagh and Evans in the lobby bar of the Hilton Fashion District.  After Kavanagh asks me about New York’s best cup of coffee—I recommend Brooklyn’s The Cup—and both men remark on my old school tape recorder (we all recall mix tapes fondly), I ask them about the genesis of this intensely psychological film.

            “I was really interested in the idea that no matter how long you know somebody, or think you know somebody . . . you never really know them,” Kavanagh explains.  “I was really interested in the type of character where, on the surface [he] looks like a really nice guy but he’s capable of awful things as well, you know?”  Kavanagh’s speech is peppered with “you knows”; he’s a friendly, talkative guy who gives his work a lot of thought.  Evans, meanwhile, is quieter, speaking slowly and carefully, with serious intentions.  He is also, I might add, handsomely clad in a leather jacket, which just enhances the crush I’ve been nursing since seeing the film.

            “[The Canal] also brings up the public and the private,” Evans adds.  “As Ivan says, it deals a lot with what’s internal, what’s happening inside, and one gets a grasp of what [David] really thinks, and what he says, and why.  What he says publicly and what he feels internally.  We worked very, very hard to make this guy—Ivan was very, very keen to make it seem like he’s a decent guy.”

“That’s what makes it so horrifying when he does this absolutely horrific, terrible thing, you know?” Kavanagh adds.  “I really likened it to Shakespeare’s stuff, like in Macbeth, where what he does conjures up these ghosts. . . . They’re in his head, but they’re also real as well.”

The director sites 1970s films such as Don’t Look Now as influences on his psychological horror story.  “I love horror films that take their time to get into the mood and then slowly, as the film goes on the further and further we go into this nightmare,” Kavanagh says.  “So by the end of it . . . we’re fully inside his head, you know?  And the type of images I wanted to show were kind of uncensored, a bit like in nightmares. . . . They’re almost irrational images, but still motivated emotionally.”  This approach extended to the look of the movie, which emulated Don’t Look Now in that “we went for that color palate with the reds, and the primary colors, and we used a lot of zooms like that.”

             “We did a lot of long takes and stuff,” Kavanagh says.  “That was great for tension and stuff and it made for a film which is . . . maybe a throwback to films from the 70s, directors like Dario Argento.”  The lead character’s work as a film archivist factored in to the look as well.  “His job, his nightmares and fantasies, would be tainted or colored by films that he’s watched,” Kavanagh says.  “It was good to experiment with horror tropes as well, to see if you could do anything new to surprise people with them.”

            Evans hits on why The Canal, which has echoes of Sinister and The Shining, among others, ultimately transcends its familiar story elements and works as deeply unsettling movie.  “I think this movie is a genre [piece], a horror or a thriller, [but] it’s really very character driven,” he declares.  “It’s crucial.  If you don’t believe the characters, the rest of it won’t work.”

The Canal has been acquired by The Orchard for future release in America.

Read my review of the film here:

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on May 4, 2014