For many years it appeared as though the secret of the genuinely scary film had been lost. Instead of subtle, understated creepiness we got sudden loud bangs; instead of a steadily building atmosphere of terror we got grossout gore. Which I don't mind at all: I'm more than happy with any combination of well timed jump scares and explicit splatter. But I'm also just as happy that in recent years there has been a trend in horror cinema for the creepy and scary rather than simply shouting Boo! and waving offal at the camera. Sinister, Insidious and The Conjuring are probably the most high profile examples in recent years, but there have been a few direct to video examples such as The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh and Lake Mungo.
Two brand new films, not yet available in the UK (in fact, not even on the release schedules) exemplify this modern trend. The Canal (Irish, although the police are never referred to as the Garda) and the British The Sleeping Room are both low-budget films with very small casts, but there is unsettling creepiness to spare. In both films, hideous murders from the past reverberate down through the years: The Sleeping Room centres on the relationship between a young prostitute and her client who is renovating a former Brighton brothel in which unspeakable crimes were committed, while in The Canal a young family move into a house where - surprise surprise - unspeakable crimes were committed. In both cases, those crimes are set to be re-enacted....
By chance, both films also feature the use of now obsolete media: 35mm film stock in The Canal, and a What The Butler Saw mutoscope in The Sleeping Room. I'm always creeped out in a horror film when something shows up on film that wasn't there before, and it's nicely done in The Canal. Of the two, I think The Sleeping Room is the slightly better film: I enjoyed it more and found the characters deeper and more interesting. This is not to suggest The Canal isn't any good; I still found it pleasurably creepy in a way which, as mentioned, we don't tend to see very often. Both movies are worth tracking down if and when they ever turn up (I understand The Canal is scheduled for an American release), but for me The Sleeping Room has the edge.