2013, 95mins, NR
Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Bret Easton Ellis
Cast includes: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Gus Van Sant
UK Release Date: 2013
Maybe “The Canyons” is a hyper meta commentary and I’m too much of a meat-head to connect with its societal and cultural neuroses? With legitimate talents like Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis at the wheel you’d like to hope so. Unfortunately I’m not convinced the picture is anything other than a frosty, superficial vanity piece, with a bleary dramatic core upon which to rest its largely unexplored thematic hang-ups. The movie begins with a parade of dilapidated multiplexes, heralding the death of the traditional movie-going experience, occasionally returning to the point throughout its rambling 95 minute runtime. Yet the feature dispels little true wisdom or insight on this or any other of its undercurrents, instead becoming fully embroiled in cheap, wannabe sultry acts of revenge, murder and sexual frankness.
Sexually dominated by her promiscuous producer beau Christian (James Deen), Tara (Lindsay Lohan) was once a delicate flower, now soiled by years of questionable yuppie living in Los Angeles. In a bid to retain some of her past fragility, Tara conducts an affair with old friend Ryan (Nolan Funk), a jobbing pretty-boy recently given his big break under Christian’s leadership. Ryan becomes desperate to have Tara for himself, citing Christian as a deeply corrupting influence on her previously tender soul, disarming Tara with his intense proclamations of love. Caught Between two men, Tara is left confused and eventually frightened, as Christian begins to get wind of her infidelity.
I suspect the ugly DIY appearance boasted by the picture is entirely deliberate, all white-washed exteriors and dry, expansive Hollywood abodes. It’s not particularly pleasant to digest, but it’s a fitting look for a product that actively works hard to create an endless distance between itself and the audience, essentially rendering the movie an experiment in keyhole voyeurism cranked up on a massive scale. That might work if the actual dramas and characters presented were interesting, but alas “The Canyons” plays it safe, blandly pivoting between crudely directed carnal set-pieces and cheesy instances of cheap violence. Characters sit down and express themselves through Ellis’ less than inspired dialogue, but none of it registers with any intrigue or purpose, “The Canyons” constantly having to aim for the lowest denominator vantage point to incite even the merest suggestions of titillation. Ultimately the movie has the personality of a snow-cone, but more criminally its storytelling prowess and observational relevance are blunter than a toddler’s favourite crayon.
I've never harboured any allusions that Lindsay Lohan is anything less than a gifted performer, a once sparky and likable force destroyed by the seedier temptations of superstar living. Her career has been grounded in an unenviable place for years, stints in jail cells and rehabilitation units breaking up the professional embarrassment with depressing regularity. It’s nice then to see the actress provide decent work in “The Canyons”, even if the movie around her is barely worth the strain. Tara feels like an entity with an almost schizophrenic divide in her life, Lohan balancing her urge to reinstate some form of honesty with her slavish devotion to crass, over-privileged Hollywood boredom nicely. She gamely allows her own past to dictate some of the movie’s ideas; it’s just a shame that Ellis can’t nurture them into anything resembling satisfactory material. She’s the best thing about this misfire, incapable of redeeming it, but dodging personal humiliation through her own committed work. Former porn-star Deen is a bit one dimensional, but undoubtedly boasts a strong screen presence. On the other hand Nolan Funk is abysmal as Ryan; brooding with the authenticity of a child doing a dodgy Batman impersonation. He’s a dead-weight, and every sequence he inhabits can’t begin to do battle with his cumbersome delivery and inert physicality.
“The Canyons” waddles along for over an hour and a half and feels every shoddy moment. I’m not surprised that the self-destructive tendencies of its star and the vapid undertones of Hollywood living appealed to both Schrader and Ellis, but their work here is poorly formed and rushed. Maybe cinema is dying, and a culture of young people obsessed with instant gratification are to blame, but if that’s the message this trashy work is trying to communicate it largely fails. “The Canyons” has many problems; it’s unattractive, unambitious and clumsily composed. However even within the meagre confines of VOD erotic thriller expectations (a low-rent category at best) the movie slips up because it’s boringly repetitive. For me, that’s just unforgivable.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013