The Canyons Review


There’s something perversely mesmerizing about the cinematic train wreck that is The Canyons, the latest from director Paul Schrader. Maybe it’s the director’s confidence. This pulpy, sex-fueled story is utter nonsense, but it’s entertaining nonsense. The performances from porn star James Deen and tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan are abysmal, but they’re also oddly appropriate. Provocateur Bret Easton Ellis‘ dialogue is ham-fisted and silly, but he also laces the film with a dry sense of humor that makes it go down rather easily. Make no mistake: this isn’t a particularly good movie by any definition of the word. But “so bad it’s good” seems like an assessment tailor-made for The Canyons.

Set in Los Angeles, The Canyons follows Christian (Deen), a trust-fund kid who makes movies to keep his overbearing father off his back. He’s romantically involved with Tara (Lohan), but their sex life involves finding adult friends on the internet and taping each other getting involved with them. Tara, however, harbors a secret from her man. She’s in love with Ryan (Nolan Funk), the boyfriend of Christian’s assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) and the star of Christian’s latest production, which Tara has gotten heavily involved in. Tara and Ryan lived together years ago, and she left the struggling actor for a more financially secure life with Christian. But upon reuniting, the two learned such intense feelings don’t die easily.

Though Christian has no problems watching Tara with another man, the thought of her being emotionally involved with someone other than him starts consuming him. He becomes paranoid and increasingly difficult to be around. Even his long-time lay Cynthia (Tenille Houston) asks him to stop coming around. It’s Ryan, though, who bears the brunt of Christian’s madness, and soon, the two are locked in a battle of wills so intense that lives truly are on the line.

It’s hard to even know where to begin with a film like this. It oscillates so wildly and from minute to minute between awesome and awful that, 90 minutes later, you’ll just feel exhausted. The film’s most interesting commentary relates to Schrader’s apparent insistence that cinema is dead. The Canyons‘ opening credits are played over moving still images of abandoned movie houses. Christian waxes not-so-poetic about his non-plussed attitude toward his job. Over lunch, Tara asks Gina when her last meaningful moviegoing experience was. (She blanks.) Christian uses his iPhone—not a camera—to film Tara’s sex scenes.

Then there’s the who meta idea of The Canyons being a deliberately trite cinematic sex-capade starring a porn star and a Lohan that’s a day-and-date VOD release. It’s unfortunate that no discussion of The Canyons can be had without acknowledging its roots. (I’ll stay away from its troubled production history…that’s neither here nor there.) But that’s the nature of the beast Schrader has created.

Whether you’re of the belief that The Canyons is hollow trash (it is) or a smart, deliberate commentary (still hollow), it seems impossible to me that someone would defend the lifeless corpses known as James Deen and Lindsay Lohan who, apparently, were supposed to be the lead actor and actress of this film. It should be noted, however, that the film’s biggest offenders are Easton Ellis and his banal dialogue, but it’s delivered painfully by every actor involved (even an unsuspecting Gus van Sant…seriously…)

Schrader’s Los Angeles is an interesting place that could have been (and has been previously) explored thoughtfully, but here, he seemed more interested in making an awful movie and seeing if he could get away with it. It’s cool that he wants to call his choices deliberate, but I’m calling bullshit. Yes, The Canyons is kind of fun in a truly twisted way, but at the end of the day, I need something to latch onto, and nobody involved has anything to offer.

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