Exclusive: Interview with ‘The Canal’ Director Ivan Kavanagh

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Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal was one of the best horror movies of 2014. If you ask me, it was the scariest. You can read my short review here, but just trust me on this. It’s not one you want to let slip by.

It tells the story of a film archivist whose wife is murdered leaving him as the prime suspect in her killing while also taking care of their little boy. Meanwhile, he has discovered through old crime scene footage that another murder took place in his own home in 1902. It’s a fresh ghost story that’s both brutal and downright creepy.

I had the opportunity to pick Kavanagh’s brain about the film and what else he’s up to, so without further ado…

iHorror: I read that you wanted the 1902 footage in The Canal to look like Louis Lumière’s Feeding the Baby. What’s the significance of that particular film? 

Ivan Kavanagh: This film has no significance to The Canal, but it’s just one, for me, that represented perfectly the very particular look that the films from the period had, which is what we sought to recreate in my film. The background details (in this case the trees blowing in the wind) are what makes them look unique. It’s the quality of the movement and the grain structure I think, and I knew we had succeeded when we recreated this look perfectly.

iH: Is the hand-cranked camera in the film the same one you used to film that footage?

IK: Yes, the same one. It’s an amazing camera from 1915 that still works perfectly and, of course, was one of the reasons we could recreate the look of the films from early cinema.

iH: How easy or difficult was it to direct a young child with no acting experience?

IK: Well, once you cast the film correctly, then it isn’t that difficult. The audition process was quite intensive and involved quite a lot of call backs and acting exercises such as complex improvisations and line readings. Calum, who played the little boy, is uniquely talented and way beyond his years as far as intelligence and acting intuition goes.

iH: Do you have kids yourself? If so, did you find that aspect of the subject matter of the film difficult to work on? 

IK: No, not just yet. But I understand the film partly deals with a fear that I imagine all parents must have and I don’t think I will be any exception.

iH: You’ve said in the past that with The Canal, you wanted to fill the film with your own fears. Can you elaborate on those fears in how they pertain to the context of the film?

IK: The best horror films all deal with common, sometimes primal, fears, such as fear of the dark, of violence, of harm coming to a loved one, of realising you don’t really know the person you’re closest to, of knowing we are all capable of both great good and great evil. The way I always thought about it was, if I fill the film with some of my own fears, like some of the ones I mentioned, it’s bound to frighten at least some other people too.

iH: You’ve called the horror genre “unfairly dismissed and neglected”. After all the great horror films to be released over the years, why do you think that still is? 

IK: I’m a fan of cinema in general and I like all types of films. Before The Canal I made two art house films back to back, and so I don’t differentiate between types of films, there’s just films I like and don’t like or I feel I must make. I think many great filmmakers were unfairly neglected (awards wise) because they made films mostly within genre. Hitchcock and Kubrick being the prime example of this. I think it’s because people see genre films as less worthy, because they are about (at least on the surface) less “serious” subjects than art house films or dramas and are generally more commercial too. However the cinematic artistry within the best genre films is a constant inspiration to me and always reawakens my love of cinema. Ingmar Bergman does that for me too, but the older I get, the more my love of Hitchcock, Kubrick, DePalma, Polanski and other great genre filmmakers grows.

iH: I know you’re a fan of the genre and have mentioned films like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as having an impact on you. Can you think of any specific horror films from the last few years that have left a significant impression?

IK: There is a film called Soft For Digging, directed by J.T. Petty, that I caught on late night TV a few years ago that really unsettled me. I also really enjoyed Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, which I thought was great fun and had a great ending.

iH: You’ve started writing another psychological horror film. Anything you can tell us about that? 

IK: I want to keep it secret for now. All I’ll say is it’s very different from The Canal and deals with a different type of horror. I also think it’ll be absolutely terrifying and I’m very excited about it.

iH: You’re also working on a horror thriller with another writer? Any details you can share there? 

IK: No, sorry! It’ll have to remain a secret for now as it’s at very early stages.

Kavanagh has also been said to be involved with an unknown television series and a western, but couldn’t talk about those either. All I know is that after The Canal, I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.