Review: The Canyons

What do you get if you cross a zeitgeisty 90s novelist, one of the most challenging talents of 70s Hollywood, and the most infamous actress of present times?

Sadly, the answer is considerably less than one might hope. Despite Paul Schrader’s impressive-sounding claims of making “cinema for the post-theatrical era”, The Canyons, for all its portentous shots of abandoned movie theaters, resembles nothing more than an old-fashioned straight-to-video B-movie with lurid plotting and a cast of soapy caricatures:

Christian (James Deen) is a movie producer who doesn’t like movies but, hey, he needs some semblance of a job or Dad's going to cut off his trust fund!

 

Tara (Lindsay Lohan) is Christian's live-in girlfriend, a failed actress who parties too hard and is now, like, totally reliant on Christian.

Cynthia (Tenille Houston) is Christian’s kind of ex-girlfriend, although he still sees her when the mood takes him. She's a voluptuous yoga instructor.

 

Gina (Amanda Brooks) is Christian’s assistant. But, you know, she's also Tara’s friend.

 

Ryan (Nolan Funk) is Gina’s beefcake actor boyfriend. And he's about to become a star! In Christian’s next project, a slasher movie.

 

But two-timing Christian doesn't know that his new star also has a secret. He used to date Christian's girlfriend Tara!

 

And, uh, they might still have, like, feelings.

 

Wow. 

Though Bret Easton Ellis has frequently created conscience-free characters that drift through moneyed society (Or, as Schrader tidily puts it: “Beautiful people doing bad things in nice rooms”) here, his phoned-in script feels like a karaoke version of his previous work.

 

Coupled with minimalist production values and under-rehearsed actors, it really does play out like a daytime soap, or perhaps more pertinently, a bad reality show – but with less plot and more sex and violence.

The stunt casting of a porn star (Deen, not drowning but barely swimming)  and the uninsurable Lohan, plus the auctioning off of Taxi Driver memorabilia on Kickstarter, may have bought Schrader & co. creative independence but it results in shoddy, ill-disciplined work.

 

There are some potentially provocative ideas here but they’re left unexplored, lurking in the fog of poor execution.

Perhaps constrained by time and budget, Schrader’s focus seems to have been on simply getting the film to completion. Directorial flourishes or even passion are in short supply.

 

Crucially, the man who created Travis Bickle doesn’t appear interested in these LA wannabes and never-weres, which makes it difficult for the viewer to be either.

As the film’s lead, Deen’s sociopath Christian has little of the frightening quirk or morbid charisma of, say, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman while everyone else is defined by plot requirements rather than any recognizable human traits.

 

Lohan comes out best, just about. Her still-evident screen presence and experience fairly easily conveying Tara’s growing anxiety. Even her unnaturally puffy features at the time of filming only add pathos to proceedings - the glimmers of talent all the sadder in such grubby surroundings.

© 2020 by Aubrey Day.