Comic-Con Preview: Director Ivan Kavanagh, Star Rupert Evans on The Canal

The-Canal-lowres-257If you’re around tonight at this year’s Comic-Con, you’ll want to check out what might be one of the best horror movies of the year as The Orchard and Shock Till You Drop bring Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (get the movie here: Google/Vudu/iTunes/Amazon) with a special preview screening at San Diego’s Gaslamp 15 at 8pm.

Set in rural Ireland, it stars Rupert Evans (Hellboy) as David, a film archivist with a morbid fascination for old films in which the subjects have since died. Right after learning that his wife (Hannah Hoekstra) may be cheating on him, she mysteriously disappears at the same time that his assistant Claire (Antonia Campbell Hughes) finds an old reel of film that points to a murder that took place in his house a hundred years ago. David starts to suspect her disappearance may involve some form of the supernatural but he also quickly becomes the prime suspect.

The Canal premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it was one of the most distinctly original movies in the way Kavanagh uses sound design and visuals to really keep the viewer on edge. It was also far more character-driven than the typical festival horror movie, reminding us of Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse, another Irish film that mixed horror with real human emotions. The film’s subtle dig at the overused found footage format–the lead character really does find footage after all—is counterbalanced by a film that’s incredibly cinematic, considering the relatively low budget.

Back in April, had a chance to talk with Kavanagh and the film’s star Rupert Evans the day after the film’s world premiere at Tribeca. (Note: We tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, although you may notice we didn’t mention anything about the canal mentioned in the title.)  I’m a little bummed I didn’t get a chance to see this on the screen yet, but I will say as a compliment that it was one of the first online screeners I’ve gotten that I became so wrapped up in that I stopped working to focus on it without being distracted by other things, which is usually what happens when I watch screeners. 

Ivan Kavanagh: Great, thanks! It’s a different experience in the cinema.

Shock: Well, it does pay homage to film.

Kavanagh: Absolutely. It’s partly about film as well. The way we use celluloid and digital at the same time, so it’s great to see that on the big screen with the film grain and the cels, especially at a cinema is amazing.

Shock: I’m sure you know but there are a lot of horror movies out there and many of the horror elements have been used over and over, so it’s hard to make an original horror these days, so what made you want to go down this direction and do a character piece that delves so fully into genre?

Kavanagh: My previous films have pretty much been character based and I didn’t want that to change for this film. I wanted to make a film completely from one character’s point of view and to have all the scenes colored by his point of view, so you’re never quite sure whether what you’re seeing is in his mind or if it’s really happening. I kind of liked the ambiguity of it as well. Also, I made another very low-budget horror film a few years ago and the endless possibilities cinema-wise, you can push the medium to its furthest reaches, both push the image and push the sound—you can do absolutely anything with horror. It’s kind of liberating and I’ve been dying to get back to that.

Shock: Rupert, you’ve not done a ton of genre movies over the years—you were in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy–so how did you hear about this and what got you interested in it?

Rupert Evans: Well, I was sent the script. I hadn’t met Ivan and when I first read it I realized it was kind of a genre movie, but what really interested me was the characters and my character specifically because the journey the guy goes on, that’s what I found interesting, although it was a horror movie, it had real integrity in terms of the characters. I wanted to know what was going to happen and I kept reading, wanting to know the truth. Was it him? Are there supernatural elements? It fascinated me and you can very quickly flick through scripts. On this one, and I didn’t. I was gripped and I really enjoyed the journey this guy goes on and what happens to him and how he disintegrates really. For me, I got very excited when I read it because I just knew that that was somewhat of a challenge and that interested me.

Shock: You also play a father with a small child in this, so have you ever played a father before?

Evans: No I haven’t really. It’s funny because as an actor, you go through stages where you’re a star and you’re a young guy and you have a girlfriend, then suddenly you’re married. Am I getting older? You go “Sh*t!” and before you know it you’re going to be married with kids and I don’t see myself like that. In this one I have a five-year-old kid. But working with Callum who plays Billy was amazing. It’s really interesting working with 5-year-old kids because they don’t act. Sometimes if they get bored in the middle of a scene, they just sort of walk off. He’s very much in the moment and it’s a great lesson to us lot or me anyway. He’s dealing with that moment, he’s dealing with what you’re talking about and nothing else, so it was really interesting to work with him. 

Kavanagh: He wasn’t an ordinary boy. He was amazingly intelligent. We looked at about 200 kids and I wanted to go for a non-actor who hadn’t done any acting before to get something more naturalistic. The moment I saw him in my auditions, he was able to improvise and be totally in the moment, like Rupert said. It was absolutely amazing.

Rupert Evans the Canal

Shock: When you’re writing a script like this, you must think I need to find a kid who can do all this.

Kavanagh: Exactly. I had a casting director who looked at the script and said, “It’s impossible to find this fellow, I can’t take this on,” but the amazing thing iwas that he never knew what kind of film he was in. It was all a game and he never saw any of the horror stuff so he was never frightened. Well, once afraid of the dark, one time, but it was more like a game and we kept him upbeat all the time and he loved it. At the end of it, he was bonded to Rupert, it was really sad to part. When you’re making films, you bond with people and you create these really intense relationships, but for a five-year-old, he doesn’t have the process and the separation so I’d say it was very hard for him. He was genuinely sad to say goodbye to Rupert.

Evans: Yeah, it was very, very hard for him. It is real because we are doing it, but movies are moments in reality, it’s another world. But he’s an amazing kid and I’m still in touch with him.

Shock: Will he be able to attend the premiere with his family?

Kavanagh: His mother and father have seen it, I think, and loved it, but he’s too young. What I might do is I might edit a few scenes of the horror stuff and just do the “Callum version” with no horror in them. Maybe put a different soundtrack on it as well, do happier music.

Shock: I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot because there’s something about going in this not knowing all the beats and how things progress. That said, I was curious about how you wanted to handle the horror elements, particularly the supernatural aspects, but put your own imprint on it. There are some visuals in this that are very unique.

Kavanagh: I wanted to make a very visceral experience where the sound and the image were equally important and also wanted it to maybe hark back to films from the ’70s like “Don’t Look Now” that were very visual… or early Dario Argentina or Brian de Palma maybe, some of his early films, that have very distinct visual styles. I was eager to do something like that, that looked unique, that looked like it could be from the mind of a cinema archivist. For me, the haunting story and the fantasies would be colored by his job, would be colored by the fact that he watches and investigates films for a living. It’s a very conscious thing to make it very filmic. Also, I liked the idea of using film because film is dying out. I recreated as closely as I could the look of those old films.

Shock: You had to create all those old films we see from scratch?

Kavanagh: Yeah, all of those. What we did was that we tested all sorts of film stocks. We tested 8mm, 16mm, Super 16, 35, but nothing worked. Nothing looked like old film, so we found a hand-cranked camera from 1916 that hadn’t been used since the ’20s or something like that. We weren’t even sure if it would even come out. There was an old viewfinder on it, so you have to measure between actors. The camera he uses is actually the camera we used to create those films.

Evans: I actually shot stuff and I was shot shooting.

Shock: What’s interesting is that when you shoot on film you don’t always know what you have until you develop it. Did you shoot the film itself on film as well?

Kavanagh: No, that was digital, because 35mm is so expensive, there was a lot of worry because there was no guarantee that this footage would even come out, and there were no chance of reshoots either because the schedule was so tight. But it was worth it, it was worth it.


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