This collaboration between controversial author Bret Easton Ellis and Taxi Driver (1976) scribe/American Gigolo (1980) director, Paul Schrader was one of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2013. I must admit that I am probably the only person on the planet that gave it much thought, yet my hopes were high after an eerie starless trailer that revealed the gritty side of Hollywood in a series of haunting stills with the melancholic Dum Dum Girls providing the soundtrack. The Canyons (2013) could be the film version of Easton Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms, I thought. A book which struck me of as a very, very dark and dangerous version of the MTV show The Hills. Then I saw the tagline “It’s not The Hills”. What with that and the casting of Lindsay Lohan, I couldn’t have been more excited. For months, I read how the film had been rejected from various festivals on the grounds of “quality issues”. A Video on Demand release in the US and countless negative reviews could do nothing to quash my excitement. And then I saw it...
Hardcore porn star James Deen after much campaigning from the film’s writer, stars as Christian, a spoilt trust fund kid who enjoys having threesomes with his girlfriend and filming them on his phone. His girlfriend, Tara played by Lindsay Lohan is an aspiring actress who’s lost faith in the Hollywood machine. Christian finances an independent Horror film and Tara agrees to help with the casting. Tara’s former boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk) becomes the frontrunner for the lead role in the film. Old feelings gradually reemerge between the couple and this doesn’t go undetected by Christian who begins to torment them both until circumstances escalate towards a bloody violence that will tear all relationships apart forever. Sounds a bit playground doesn’t it? It is!
The characters are incredibly shallow and one dimensional. Deen may be good at having sex on screen but he is not good at acting. The dialogue fails to flow with full stops acting like audible slaps across the face. This matched with the distinct lack of atmosphere makes his scenes all the more uncomfortable to watch. Lohan is sadly dead in the eyes throughout the entire film. There is no feeling whatsoever in her performance and she creates the impression that she is being manipulated by the director as her fragile state is constantly evident and again, uncomfortable to watch. Brett Easton Ellis’s screenplay is weak and infantile which is perhaps purposeful move to demonstrate the shallowness of the characters but unfortunately it leaves them freezing cold and with little flesh on their lovely chiseled bones. The production is tired and stale, with very little thought being put into an overall aesthetic and atmosphere. The film’s biggest travesty comes from Schrader, for failing to take advantage of the natural beauty of Los Angeles or for not even attempting to create his own unique version of the city as David Lynch so expertly did in Mullholland Drive (2001). Schrader’s camera often trails off shot as if he’s attempting to eliminate some background action. During one restaurant scene. He blocks out the scenic Sunset Strip by shifting his camera from a close up of the back of someones head to give us a closer look at a table and a couple of chairs.
The tagline was right “It's not The Hills”. The Hills gave us self obsessed and vacuous trust fund kids in abundance, but their characters were well developed and always watchable, whether you hated them or not. The Hills and its “scripted reality” was shallow and one dimensional but those behind the scenes were clearly skilled at making a drama out of absolutely anything and everything. The Canyons is a bizarre existential look at Hollywood's young, fucked up and affected, either that or its something else. I just don't know, and after such anticipation, I'm sad to say I don't really care. In fact, the best thing to come out of the whole experience is the brilliant article written by Stephen Rodrick for the New York Times Magazine in January 2013. Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie is a fascinating insight into the making of The Canyons and it’s a whole lot more entertaining than the movie itself.