Park Films have recently signed Emile Hirsch as the lead role in their IRL/US co-production The Disassembled Man. The film is an adaption from the acclaimed novel of the same name by Jon Bassoff (Corrosion, Factory Town) and US screenwriter Ethan Goldman, and will be directed by longtime Park collaborator Ivan Kavanagh (The Canal).
Ivan says ‘I am very excited about working with Emile, who was the first actor I thought of when I read Jon Bassoff’s incredible book. The Disassembled Man will be a wild, blackly comic journey, into the dark side of the American dream.
The Disassembled Man is a dark noir thriller that tells the story of Frankie Avicious (played by Hirsch), a hard-luck fella with a sordid past. Living in a dreary meatpacking town, stuck in a loveless marriage, and spending his days slaughtering cattle, Frankie has nothing to look forward to but his next swallow of bargain whiskey. His wife is threatening to leave him, and the local sociopath is threatening to kill him. And then there’s Scarlett Acres, a stripper with a heart of Fool’s Gold. Frankie can’t stop thinking about her….with the encouragement of a mysterious travelling salesman, Frankie sets out to reverse his destiny through a series of bizarre murders.
Like all film noir protagonists, he is a man with fate ready to trip him up at any second.
‘It’s a very commercial film, full of atmosphere & tension, with a fair whack of jet black humour’, said Producer AnneMarie Naughton.
DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh • PRO: AnneMarie Naughton • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Robin Hill • MUS: Ceiri Torjussen • DES: Stephanie Clerkin • CAST: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra, Steve Oram
Following on from his bizarrely demented and macabre film Tin Can Man (2007), The Canal sees Irish writer, director and film festival favourite Ivan Kavanagh’s fifth feature entering the realm of horror once again. Less idiosyncratic and shadowing a more traditional narrative paradigm than Tin Can Man, The Canal is a self-conscious and unnerving supernatural horror and fully aware of its lineage within the genre, strategically appropriates from its cinematic predecessors and remains faithful to its cinematic form. Such self-awareness would therefore suggest a more accessible narrative to its audience and yet, it is as a result of this familiarity that Kavanagh is able to assemble a horror film that is instantly recognisable and formulaic, yet refreshingly contemporary, intelligent and immersive, which does not fail to startle, ruffle and hugely disconcert.
Placid film archivist David (Rupert Evans) and his pregnant wife, Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) move into a charming, old house and five years on, along with their son, appear to live a reasonably contented life. When David is asked to view some archive police footage from a 1902 murder, he fearfully recognises his house as the murder scene where a man brutally murdered his wife and deposited her body in the local canal. His angst is further heightened when he suspects Alice of having an affair and when she fails to return home one night and her body is pulled from the canal, David becomes prime suspect. As he sets about finding the true killer, supernatural forces impede his efforts, catapulting David into a hypnotic mindscape of psychological paranoia.
In a sort of Paranormal Activity meets The Shining and The Babadook vein, The Canal is elevated from becoming another lethargic, disposable horror film by Kavanagh’s intellectual investment into his narrative, whereby the plot unfolds through the eyes of a personable man, whose steady mental decline not only mirrors but also exceeds the impetus of the most horrific and supernatural elements of the film. By consciously evoking repetitive signifiers of horror and arousing a feeling of nostalgia through pastiche, Kavanagh artfully lures and provokes his audience into a sense of recognition and predictability before assaulting them with the psychological annihilation of the film’s protagonist. Such narrative scaremongering fuses the horrific with the psychological, melds the past with the present and unveiled through a traditional narrative structure, blurs the boundaries between reverie and reality, creating a pulsating platform for the prolonged mental erosion of both protagonist and audience.
Mirroring The Canal’s cinematic heritage within the horror genre, David’s obsession with connecting Alice’s death with the deaths of the past, leads him to conclude that he is merely the next link in a long lineage of supernatural events in the house, which have returned to wreak further havoc and may not necessarily end with him. Kavanagh elicits motifs from supernatural horror Paranormal Activity, whereby David uses an old film camera to not only gather supernatural evidence, but also to demonstrate an appeal from the director to look to the past and reinvest in the genre as it increasingly appears to being devoured by cinema itself.
Rupert Evans’ performance as David is alarming in the shift from unassuming and tender husband and father to demonic neurotic and delusional obsessive. His performance is excruciatingly palpable and prickly; his decent into a nightmarish madness jolts and jerks far more perturbingly than any of the blood-spattered apparitions haunting the house. Hannah Hoekstra, as David’s seductive Dutch wife, extends beyond the archetypal horror beauty and mirroring David’s schizophrenic tendencies, invests great emotional malleability, oscillating between attentive wife and mother to deceiving adulteress with chilling ease. The two supporting characters skilfully bolster and sedate David and Alice’s overwhelmingly burdened performances. Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Claire sobers the overall intensity, her understated pragmatism the perfect foil to the psychotic madness. Steve Oram, as the quintessential Cockney copper, brings an equally law-abiding practicality to the narrative and compliments Claire’s skepticism as he attempts to remain outside the psychopathic minefield and remain inside the realm of rationality.
Piers McGrail’s moody cinematography jerkily vacillates between David’s four core spaces of calm; the house, canal, film archive rooms and his own mind, to a shattering of such oases of tranquillity, which explode into tense and suffocating pockets of bloody carnage and gore. The murky, putrid, and suffocating ambience, underpinned by a knowing spine-chilling score, cuts through the stillness of perceived normality to become an ominously fluorescent and hauntingly shadowy milieu, as the architects of David’s malaise haunt and taunt him into further preternatural torment, leaving both David and the audience with nowhere to go but remain locked inside this psychotic mindscape.
Although horror may be conventionally located as a low-cultural genre, The Canal is an intelligent revision of familiar horror and supernatural formulas, which, by littering the narrative with recognisable signifiers, instils a sense of familiarity to its audience before perversely steering the narrative into an unknown realm. By flirting with conventional haunted-house tropes which distort the perceptions of both genres, the film engages, intimidates and strikes terror on a whole new level, demonstrating that the horror and supernatural genres are far from dead.
The Canal introduces us to cinema archivist David and his family who move into a period house by a canal. Despite dismissing rumours that the house is being haunted, David starts having nightmarish visions when he suspects his wife is cheating.
Shane Hennessy caught up with writer/director Ivan Kavanagh to find out more about his latest horror film.
Where did the idea for the story in The Canal come from?
Well, I suppose I thought that a cinema archivist would make a great protagonist for a film, as he investigates for a living. Also I’m really into early cinema as well so I really wanted to recreate those old films, for years I’ve been trying to get the look of those films right. We tried a range of different film formats. We finally found that using a camera from 1915 with 35mm film running through it worked great. It came out with the exact look that I wanted. Also, a cinema archivist has probably seen every horror film ever made, so all his nightmares and dreams would be coloured by other films. I felt it could be very expressionistic and allow me to take the medium as far as I wanted to go.
Sounds plays a crucial role in The Canal. It’s very authentic. The music has a Carpenter-like texture to it. Did you have much input with the score?
Yeah, I wanted a very particular sound. I’m big into 20th century classical music and I wanted something that was very contemporary. What I liked about Ceiri Torjussen (the film’s composer) was that he did a lot of classical concert music and I knew that if could incorporate that into my film that it’d be perfect. Also I told him I wanted music that didn’t sound like music as such, so that it would blend with the sound design. Him and the sound designers worked hand in hand and we actually spent more time with the sound design and score than we did with the visual editing of the film. For me, sound is equally as important as the visuals in a film. The guys at Egg Post Production Dublin were fantastic collaborators, they worked for months on the sound and it’s an experience to hear it in the cinema.
The horror genre has a modern perception of being somewhat formulaic, is there an obligation to address those conventions by subverting them or do you prefer starting from a completely blank slate?
With David being a cinema archivist, it makes sense that it would begin with the most overused horror trope there is – he moves into a house where a murder took place in the past. And it seems to me that I could go from there and play with the genre. Maybe it happened in his head but maybe it’s real, but because of his obsession with cinema his mind is filled with these horror conventions.
The main character is haunted by obsession more so than anything else. It’s as though grief is presented as this force in his life rather than something otherworldly. Was it difficult to harness that ambiguity?
Well, any good horror movies are rarely about what they seem to be about. There’s always subtext. It was really hard to get that into the script, that balance between what’s real and what he’s imagining. Then when we got to the editing we got reinvent it again, in the shooting as well. Me and Rupert (Evans, playing the main character) had to take a stance on what was happening, but I wanted to leave it to the audience. My favorite films allow the viewer to take away a different interpretation to someone else. I’ve heard so many different opinions of what happened in the film, which means the balance worked. We tested the film with random people, we knew from getting different reactions. I myself have my own idea of what is happening, but anyone who’s seen it has an equally valid opinion.
What areas of the story did you carry out the most research on?
I’ve always been a cinema obsessive. So my research is instinct, mostly. I talked to a couple of psychologists about symptoms of psychosis and someone who is going into a psychogenic fugue, where they re-imagine their whole reality. What I really honed in on was the old films. Particularly Feeding the Baby from Lumiere. The background from that film is beautiful. It’s just trees growing in the wind with Lumiere feeding his baby. It’s the way the celluloid reacts to what’s happening within it, it’s so unique and you can’t capture it with modern stocks. So when we got the prints back from the 1915 camera, it was almost identical. As far as research goes, I like to look at paintings that help me to get into the state of mind. I don’t like to re-watch films. But if you’ve seen as many films as I have, it’s hard not to be influenced by them. In a way, the film is a love letter to all those films I loved growing up, films that scared me over the years as a kid – the ones I shouldn’t have been watching!
It’s fascinating that the old celluloid couldn’t be replicated on digital media. Is it something you fear for with the way cinema is going?Well, we tried digital, tried all sort of film stocks. Some came close, but people could easily tell them apart. I love shooting with film, if I could shoot everything that way I would. With digital you really have to work for the look of the film, the grade and all the rest of it. With film, as soon as it comes back from the lab, it’s interesting. Even the mistakes are beautiful. It’s the mistakes that you’re after! It’s the edge fogging, it’s the grain. I did a test years ago for a short film I was making, I didn’t rack the film properly and it was flickering as it went through the shutter. When it came back it had this ghostly effect. Pure mistake, but it was beautiful. I really miss that about film and nothing about digital allows that to happen.
Who would you say were your main contemporary influences?
Well, look-wise we looked at Don’t Look Now, and also Eyes Wide Shut. I love the way Kubrick uses expressionistic colours in that movie. That moonlighting scene (in Eyes Wide Shut) is just unrealistic, it’s a dream film. The moon in unnatural blue, the Christmas lights are fluorescent. As The Canal continues it becomes more unrealistic, we planned the colour palette of the film as it went along. So as we reach the end we used harsher reds. We didn’t have any natural light for many of the final scenes so it just came out of the blue. The Canal is a film of the mind, so it seemed completely right. Also, we looked at Susperia (1977), and some other Argento films. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s Black Narcissus (1947) also, especially the flashes to red, green and yellow. I wanted to use colours expressionistically and unnaturally. It suited the character.
A word on the cast. The detective character (Steve Oram as Det McNamara) is the perfect asshole. Did you have a difficult time assembling such a good blend of people to play the roles?
Well the child (Calum Heath, playing Billy) was really difficult to cast. I didn’t want a “child” actor, I wanted a kid who could act. The casting director went to schools around Ireland and we auditioned about 200 kids and did improvisation and line readings. Eventually we found Calum, to play Billy. He was only 5 during production but seemed to have more natural acting ability then most actors I can remember working with. It was just astounding. Rupert (Evans, playing the main character) was the most difficult to cast as he needed to be handsome and attractive personality-wise, but also very vulnerable. I saw him in Agora (2009), there’s a moment where he gives a line-reading that was completely unique. I thought that if he could give me a lot of those moments here, he’d be perfect. Then, once I spoke to him, he had the vulnerability that was needed for us to be with the character throughout the film. As far as the detective is concerned, because the main character is so influenced by movies, I think he needed to be the movie-est detective I could find! Steve (Oram) is like something out of The Sweeney. It may be a interpretation of what David thinks is happening as the story is told through his point of view. I’d seen him in Sightseers, he’s a master of improvisation. Rupert would always stick to his lines in their scenes together, but Steve would improvise around them. I wanted an international cast as I didn’t want the film to be grounded in any one country to keep the dream construct attached. If it’s set in Ireland it’s not an Ireland people would be accustomed to, it could be in London. So the casting took a long time.
What projects do you have coming up?
I’m working on a TV series with a US network. It’s a supernatural series and we’ve just finished writing the first episode. I can’t say too much more about it but it’s being announced to the press very soon. I’m also writing another psychological horror movie and there’s a few offers from America with regards to directing, so I’m just weighing everything up for now. The film was a success in America, critically and audiences seemed to really respond to it.
So much of what constitutes classic horror is bound up in style and aesthetic – with each successive slasher flick where the order and extent of grotesquery is generally ranked by ethnicity or attractiveness, the gateway to the true shock and awe that horror is capable of providing creaks a little further shut. With The Canal, Ivan Kavanagh plants a foot in the jamb and barrels the door wide open.
A loving father and husband, David (Rupert Evans) is surprised to learn that his new family home was once the scene of a series of horrific murders. Initially dismissive, the mild-mannered film archivist soon begins to question his sanity when the brutal images begin to insinuate themselves among the various aspects of his personal life.
Nothing ground-breaking, but then it is not the plot that will see audiences stuck to their seats. Kavanagh’s love of cinema is immediately evident; the hum of film-reel and the snap-hiss of the projection light are the first images to startle, and it’s a device the director returns to time and time again.
Where much modern horror subsists on jump-scares, The Canal opts for a much more humdrum brand of dread, where the everyday is an invasive force. Sound design is key here, the growl of coat-zippers and the sudden slamming of doors adding a more ominous dimension the haunted-house scenario.
Neither is Kavanagh afraid to let silence and space stretch, favouring largely static cinematography but for the odd tight zoom – the end result is a gathering sense of genuine dread that is a welcome tonic to the flimsy and fleeting hysteria that is the foundation of so much of the genre.
There is much and more that could be said of the cast, but suffice to say that newcomers Kelly Byrne and Calum Heath can’t help but steal the show, particularly in the funny and all-too-brief respites from the unrelenting force that is the rest of the film.
Raw, visceral and atmospheric, The Canal is one of the best horror films to grace Irish screens in far too long a time, and possibly the best these shores have ever produced. For those unmoved by patriotic sycophancies, a decent core workout is promised at the very least.
The Canal screened on Saturday, 28th March 2015 at The Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Cathy Butler enters the nightmare of Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Going into Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal knowing nothing about its plot or genre turned out to be quite an experience, as a complete lack of any preconceptions strengthened the film’s impact. Dark and disturbing, yet with moments of inexplicable humour, the film is a perfectly constructed voyage through one man’s nightmarish experiences.
David (Rupert Evans) is a happily married film archivist with a young son and a happy home – apparently. Through his work, David discovers old crime scene footage from 1902, showing his house as the location of a brutal murder. Soon after, David discovers his wife has been unfaithful. He begins to suffer from bizarre, horrifying visions, and his wife goes missing. When she turns up drowned in the canal near their home, her death is ruled accidental. However, David believes otherwise, and begins to pursue the connection between the 1902 murder and her death, ultimately starting down a path of horror and violence.
One of the main plot threads is familiar: a happy couple move into a home which turns out to have been the location of a turn of the century violent murder. Horror ensues. However, The Canal takes these tropes for what they are and plays with them and the audience, instilling doubt over David’s perspective on events. Kavanagh himself remarked in the Q&A following the screening that The Canal is a very self-aware film in this manner, taking such aspects of the horror genre and subverting them.
Editing and sound design come to the fore here. The form of the film reflects the content in a violent and visceral manner, time and again. Great use is made of the physical film which David uses as part of his job, film that is cut and spliced and wound at great speeds through reels. Such images are used in jarring cuts between scenes, emphasising the violence of the film in yet another self-aware aspect of the piece, implying further that what you are watching is a construct.
Sharp cuts in audio keep the audience on edge from start to finish. One particular aural cut on the sound of a zipper on a child’s bag is unnerving and jarring, yet is just an everyday object. Much of the horror of the film is presented in this way, as being part of banal aspects of David’s life, the ordinary places and things that he sees everyday. This only serves to further intensify the thread of foreboding that winds through the film.
The Canal is an expert blend of horror, mystery and psychological thriller, underpinned unexpectedly by moments of comedy. That such a film could maintain its ominous tone while injecting moments of humour is a testament to the director. All this, along with its all too vivid imagery, makes The Canal a film that will linger long with the viewer, welcome or otherwise!
Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)
Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal introduces us to David, a film archivist who finds out the home he shares with his wife and son was the scene of a ghastly turn-of-the-century murder. At first he dismisses it as ancient history. That is, until the sinister history ripples into the present and casts a shadow over life as he knows it. And when a looming secret shatters his marriage, David can’t help but suspect the dark spirits of the house are somehow involved. In his drive to unveil the shadows hidden in the walls, David begins to descend into insanity, threatening the lives of everyone around him.
Through ghastly imagery and a chilling score, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal is an Irish ghost story that will leave you with a fear of the dark and a dripping chill down your spine long after the film’s conclusion.
Kavanagh told Film Ireland that , “The film already screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April, where it got amazing reviews and was picked up for North American distribution, but I can’t wait to screen it at the Fleadh. It’s an amazing festival and it’s always held great memories for me, and I’m sure this year and this screening will be no different.”
Director Ivan Kavanagh and actor Antonia Campbell Hughes will attend.
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Cast: Rupert Evans, Steve Oram, Antonia Campbell Hughes, Kelly Byrne, Hannah Hoekstra, Calum Heath
Script: Ivan Kavanagh
Producer: AnneMarie Naughton
Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.
Director Ivan Kavanagh tells Film Ireland how he wanted to make a frightening, highly visceral, cinematic experience. The result, The Canal, is screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
With The CanalI wanted to make a frightening, highly visceral, cinematic experience, where the sound and picture were of equal importance. I also wanted to make the type of film that would linger in the mind of the audience long after they have seen it.
I also wanted to make a film that is almost 100% from one character’s point of view (David, played by Rupert Evans) and therefore what you are seeing is coloured by his interpretation of events. But the trouble is, he may be losing his mind and therefore what we are seeing may not be all that reliable, or else he’s telling the truth and what he’s experiencing may actually be supernatural after all. Which is why it’s very hard to talk about the film without giving anything away.
I have heard many different interpretations of what actually happens in this film, and as far as I’m concerned all of them are equally valid. My favourite type of films are those that leave room for the audience to dream, that don’t necessarily give us all the answers, and therefore these films can be watched and re-watched and each time you will get something new from them. This is what I was after with The Canal.
The look of the film was something that I had thought about for a long time. I wanted a very filmic look, with heightened primary colors that might be a throwback to films from the 1970s, like Don’t Look Now or Carrie and DOP Piers McGrail and I used Roeg’s film especially as a visual reference.
In all of my previous films, the sound design has played a huge part, and The Canal is no different. In fact, we spent as much time on the sound editing as we did on the picture editing, which is very unusual in film (or so I’m told). Aza Hand (the sound designer) and all the sound guys at EGG Post Production helped me achieve the highly complex multilayered soundtrack that I was after, which should hopefully rattle the nerves and live in the nightmares of people long after the screening at the Galway Film Fleadh.
The Canal screens on Saturday, 12th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 22.00 as part of the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)
Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer. Colin Downey wrote this piece in Film Ireland 135 Winter 2010 which was published on November 8th 2010.
Colin Downey explains how he looks into the mind of his characters and stays true to his own ideas.
The Looking Glass is the first feature film I’ve done with the support of the Irish Film Board and they encouraged me to expand on some of the ideas and themes that I dealt with in previous films. The Looking Glass mixes some real and surreal elements. As writers, we all try to get to some kind of truth by whatever means feel natural for us. I’ve always been interested in the internal worlds of people and in The Looking Glass I follow the story of a young man who is constantly returning in his mind to events in his childhood. At times, these events seem to overlap with the present and almost seem to happen simultaneously.
Albert Einstein once said that all time is happening at once and although I wouldn’t claim to fully comprehend that statement, I believe I was led in that direction by the way the story progressed. Some mysteries and abstractions have deliberately been left in the story of The Looking Glass. I tried to draw people into a relatively simple story and at the same time open up doors to some bigger questions about memory and identity.
I’ve always written my films with certain actors in mind. This limits the need to workshop the characters to know if it’s going to work or not. When you think of a certain actor in a role, even if they don’t end up playing the role, you can get to a truth about the character as you picture how they will play it in a unique way. I had worked with Patrick O’Donnell on many projects before and I knew he would bring a special quality to the character of Paul. As a result, he was always in my mind as I was writing the treatment and then the script. When I first met Natalia Kostrzewa, I expanded the character of Paul’s girlfriend, Claire in the story. I felt Natalia could bring a really compelling quality to a character that was fairly lightly sketched in the treatment.
I had a very strict structure in the script, which fed into the shoot schedule. All the shots were carefully planned and I tried to control the story from idea to screen. This was not always easy and no matter how well you make your plans, some shots can end up a little bit compromised. This forces you to think on your feet. Fortunately, I had a great production team and a wonderful cast and crew to help me in these situations. I also had lots of experience on ‘no-budget’ features and this helped me to adapt to whatever situations came along.
Sometimes in scenes, things happen that are a lot more interesting to you than what you were trying to realize in the initial script. In these situations, it’s good to be able to change direction and allow the film to evolve in the direction it wants to go. I’ve only ever directed my own scripts and ideas so far, although I am working on a number of adaptations at the moment. I’m sure working with a great screen writer would be wonderful but, at this stage, it helps that I don’t get too offended with myself if the script needs to be changed!
The Film Board have been very supportive of The Looking Glass and so far we’ve gotten quite a lot of interest in the film from around the world. Many have responded to the fantasy and fairytale elements of the film, which is satisfying and encouraging. It’s great to get the opportunity to screen the film for audiences in Irish festivals and gauge reaction before hopefully building towards a wider release. The Looking Glass has given me a chance to expand on the films that I made before without assistance and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to work on a bigger scale and to get the advice and assistance of some great people. Sometimes, working outside of the normal funding structures you can reach an elastic limit and it’s hard to get beyond that.
My good friend Ivan Kavanagh and I often talk about trying to get close to the productivity and the impact of the great German directors of the ’70s and ’80s, particularly Herzog and Fassbinder. Ivan and I have very different styles as filmmakers but share the same ethos and passion for cinema. Hopefully, now we have a chance to develop our visions on a bigger scale and direct the films towards as large an audience as possible.
Sometimes as a writer, you find a reservoir of ideas and you realise that, with luck, this reservoir will never run dry. Your task then, as I see it, is to create the right vessel for the ideas. Sometimes you choose correctly and it strikes a chord, sometimes your choice goes against convention and you may come up against obstacles in the short term. But if you stay true to the ideas, they will endure and re-emerge in time. We all have to express what is unique about us. Ultimately, if a writer follows his/her own originality, they will not only be satisfied creatively but will be well rewarded financially also.
The Looking Glass will screen on at the Corona Cork Film Festival on Wednesday, 10th November 2010 at 6 pm in the Gate Cinema.