Numerous derelict cinemas litter the opening of Paul Schrader’s now-infamous The Canyons (2013), screening out of competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival; and more may follow this portent omen of things to come. Make no mistake – Schrader’s latest isn’t Basic Instinct 2 bad or even quote-a-long bad, as in the case of cult sensation The Room. Instead, it’s just utterly incompetent in every possible way imaginable. Nolan Gerard Funk stars as Ryan, a young actor looking to make it big in Hollywood, who has just landed a role in a low-budget horror movie through his girlfriend, Gina (Amanda Brooks).
The film is being financed by Christian (porn-star James Deen), his girlfriend’s rich boss. The Canyons begins with an excruciatingly awkward dinner, with Christian in a boastful mood and his girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan) texting beside him. It turns out that Tara and Christian were once swingers. At this stage, there’s almost a tinge of Polanski’s Bitter Moon (1992), with the square couple ready to be seduced. However, it turns out that things are not quite as they seem, and there’s more than one character betraying the other. As a novelist, screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis was famed for his ear for LA ‘speak’ – the irony, the catchphrase, the wit – but here the American Psycho scribe is content just regurgitating lumps of exposition.
Every scene is too long, and the cod-profound comments on the business of filmmaking feel distinctly unearned. “When did you last see a film you really liked?” Lohan asks, as if she’s uncovered some universal truth, whilst Sex and the City 2 looks like Tarkovsky in comparison to this monstrosity. Even more infuriating is the fact that none of the narrative’s twists work as they simply reveal what we thought in the first place (and to think that Schrader – the writer of Taxi Driver – read this script and agreed to direct). The acting is even further below-par. Deen is initially okay, but his repertoire is strictly limited, whilst Lohan and Funk struggle with even the most basic of nuances.
The one person who actually looks like he knows how to perform is director Gus Van Sant, who has a brief cameo as a psychiatrist, but his scene is quickly ruined by the flatulent meta-commentary that Ellis heaps onto it: “I feel like an actor, like someone is directing me.” How we wish that someone was directing him. The very fact that The Canyons was crowd-funded is the best argument yet for a return to the old studio system. But the budget is not to blame, nor the poor acting, nor the mind-numbing screenplay. It’s the whole kit and kaboodle – a perfect storm of filmic ineptitude.
The 70th Venice Film Festival takes place from 28 August to 7 September, 2013. For more of our Venice 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.