The Canyons

the-canyons-posterPaul Schrader’s The Canyons is one the rare movies that dare to walk on a fine line between art and exploitation. Since Andy Warhol pretty much pioneered that subgenre, several influential filmmakers went on to experiment with this twisted, intricate universe, from Brian de Palma with Femme Fatale to Steven Soderbergh with The Girlfriend Experience and Harmony Korine with Spring Breakers.

What all those movies have in common is that they are taking risks, whether it’s in terms of direction or casting and these choices tend to alienate most spectators, especially if they don’t have a good understanding in cinema and genres. For example, Femme Fatale was designed to look like a fashion magazine while both Spring Breakers and The Canyons feature starlets in the lead roles – Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in Mr. Korine’s film and the notorious Lindsay Lohan here. Fortunately, in most cases, those risks pay off and Mr. Schrader’s latest is certainly no exception, despite some flaws.

Set in Hollywood, The Canyons provides another look at this corrupted, perverted microcosm, which is no surprise since the script was penned by Brett Easton Ellis, the author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho and one of my favorite writers. If you are familiar with his universe, you know he is an acute painter of decadence – drugs, sex, greed, vanity and violence being recurring themes in his work. Here, he uses a spoiled young man turned B-movie mogul (Christian – James Deen) and his trophy girlfriend (Tara – Ms. Lohan) as central characters to offer an unflattering portrait of the L.A. scene. We meet a succession of vain, self-absorbed and morally-challenged characters indulging in various excesses – and to be frank, living here, I found it to be a pretty accurate depiction, the film even featuring some of my favorite hangouts. Of course you could argue that there isn’t anything groundbreaking here but this vision of the Industry’s underbelly (think of it as the negative of the show Entourage) isn’t everything: what also matters is the atmosphere – Mr. Schrader successfully envelops you in this immoral, trendy environment backed up by a great soundtrack – and Ms. Lohan’s presence. The actress proves to be the heart of this movie, delivering a surprisingly subtle performance, her sensuality and troubled personality occupying every frame.

More problematic is however the case of Mr. Deen. Contrary to the Girlfriend Experience which featured Sasha Grey, there is nothing in this story that justifies hiring a porn star as a lead. While he proves here he can act – I’m not familiar with his body of work though –, he often reminded me of the Fonz (Happy Days) whenever attempting to look cocky and detached.  The other thing that bothered me was the unexpected dark turn occurring toward the end. Not only I found it unmotivated and incredible but it just didn’t fit the overall tone, looking like a cheap thrill which was most likely designed to hide Mr. Ellis’ failure at delivering a satisfying ending.

Arriving just a few months after Mr. Korine’s superb Spring Breakers, The Canyons is a more polarizing and lesser work, but this is precisely its flaws and sleazy beauty that makes it exciting.

Director: Paul Schrader Actors: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen Running Time: 1:36 Year: 2013 – Country: USA

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.