The Canal was a film rather divided amidst the cinematic grapevine. I had heard some abhored it, while others praised it. I found myself amongst the former. The trailer can often tell you a lot about how the film is going to play out. The trailer for The Canal is part of the reason we were so lazy about viewing it. It looked generic, bland, and expected. And while there were some genuinely creepy moments that were surprisingly well-shot, the film for the most part held up to our pessimistic expectations.
There are all sorts of sub-categories of horror. Almost all of these sub-categories have 2 branches; the bold and the bland. The Canal falls into the sub-category C.2.: A bland horror mystery thriller. The plot spent most of the time as a slow-burning mystery thriller with tidbits of horror sprinkled throughout.
The protagonist spends his time trying to find the killer of his wife, particularly in the supernatural realm, despite all circumstantial evidence pointing to him as the killer. At the end of the film, you discover what you already suspected, that our protagonist is a psychotic killer. Sure, it turns out the vengeful spirits are real as well, but you are left with an empty feeling of wasted time because you expected the unexpected, and instead you get nothing new.
Demon possession and evil spirits aside, a film that spends its time pseudo-condemning its protagonist just to morally finish him off in the climax makes the audience feel cheated. Of course, this all depends on how the film gets to this point. In the finale, the director uses fantastic Ring-esque visuals to deliver malevolent images of killer spirits, only to quickly send the audience on back-and-forth revelations of the protagonist's psychosis, spiritual realities, and then back to psychosis. In the blink of an eye, the director throws several plugs to plot holes at the viewer in a desperate attempt to trick the viewer into believing the ship isn't sinking. But, at the end, we're dead in the water and the movie is over.
This film reminded me of Dream House. The film had a lot of potential and attempted to develop atmosphere with a small flame, and it just couldn't stay lit long enough for you to care about the twist at the end. Dream House did succeed where The Canal failed however. It too spent a great deal of time developing circumstantial evidence against the protagonist. So much so that you are convinced he was the killer before the film is half way through, and you seem to be spending the rest of the film attempting to find redemption for the character. But no, the spirits are real, he isn't the killer, and we have a nice twist that wasn't necessarily mind-blowing, but welcoming, given our apologetic and treasured lead.
The film falls flat entirely on the director's shoulders, as he fails to properly deliver our twist. He doesn't set up the dramatic revelation that our lead isn't crazy, that his wife and children's love for him had literally manifested to save him at the end. He had the perfect chance to make it impact the viewer, and he whiffed. But still, this failure was far less of a grievance than the debacle of The Canal. Both lacked punch, both lacked luster, but at least Dream House gave us something to hold onto by the time the credits rolled.