One of the of the most intensely scrutinised films to emerge out of Hollywood for some time, The Canyons (2013) finally arrives in the UK for a brief sojourn on the big screen before hitting DVD next Monday (12 May). The level of notoriety attached to the project is undoubtedly a draw for the more curious cinéaste, as well as seeing the once revered chroniclers of cultural malaise, director Paul Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis, teaming up together. Alas, this proves to be a limp effort, with the duo’s ideas getting mostly lost in a sea of stilted performances and some distractingly drab stylistics. Lindsay Lohan is Tara, a one-time actress shacked up with movie producer Christian (James Deen).
Tiring of her relationship and all the unsavoury extras that come with it (Christian likes to invite willing additional sexual participants over to their pad), Tara begins an affair with an old flame who happens to be the leading man in Christian’s upcoming production. Thus begins a series of twisted ploys orchestrated by the cuckolded boyfriend in order to get back at unfaithful lover. It isn’t difficult to see the death of cinema/loss of aesthetic that Schrader and Easton Ellis are reaching for as we’re presented with a series of washed-out shots of dilapidated and unkempt picture houses during the film’s opening credits. Those notions are infused throughout the film, with the soap opera-like histrionics and decidedly amateurish staging of scenes, but they never coalesce in a particularly thought-provoking way.
Despite a liberal dose of full frontal nudity, The Canyons fails to fully revel in its sleaze, struggling to even work as a deadpan satire on the kind of vacuous and deadened Hollywood types Easton Ellis brought to life in the pages of his debut novel, Less Than Zero. Save for a brief scene towards the finale, there isn’t much of a sense that Lohan is bringing her personal baggage to the part (a true subversion would see her cast once again in an innocuous family film). Meanwhile, Deen’s (presumed) porn star persona doesn’t translate to legit cinema, and it’s hard to feel either repulsed or disturbed by his character’s sociopathic tendencies. At one stage, Tara bemoans her current predicament to a friend: “At the time I was board and needed something to do. Now I’m looking for something else.” Watching The Canyons, there is the feeling that those lines echoed the sentiments of Schrader and Easton Ellis midway through production.