The Canyons
dir Paul Schrader
scr Bret Easton Ellis
prd Braxton Pope
with Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, Gus Van Sant, Jim Boeven, Lauren Schacher, Victor Fischbarg, Philip Pavel, Jarod Einsohn, Chris Zeischegg
release US 2.Aug.13
13/US 1h40
The Canyons
Who's in control here? Lohan and Deen

funk brooks van sant
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Canyons This wildly lurid combination of Ellis and Schrader makes it possible to both wallow in and moralise about sexuality. And setting it around a low-budget film draws us into the twisted, ingrown plot. Although in the final act, the Hitchcockian overtones turn somewhat overbearing.

Trust fund kid Christian (Deen) is producing a low-budget slasher movie, and casts Ryan (Funk), boyfriend of his assistant Gina (Brooks), in the lead role. Christian sneers at propriety, and happily talks to anyone about his transgressive sex life with his girlfriend Tara (Lohan). Although he doesn't know that Tara and Ryan used to be together, before she dumped him for a more glamorous life in the canyons. And he's still in love with her. Meanwhile, Christian is secretly sleeping with his yoga teacher (Houston).

The film is tellingly punctuated with scenes of closed-down cinemas, old technology compared with Christian's ubiquitous phone-cam. Tara comments that no one goes to movies at theatres any more. Christian's mantra is, "Nobody has a private life anymore," so he's obsessed with videotaping his online hookups. This theme infuses the entire film, even as the chain of events are little more than a series of messy power-plays.

Performances are strong, mixing naturalistic acting with soapy excess. Lohan has strong presence, using her rather battered appearance to convey Tara's naive duplicity and underlying neediness. Deen commands the screen as the swaggering jerk who plays games with everyone around him to get what he wants. He's the kind of charismatic villain who probably isn't in control as much as he thinks he is. And in a story in which no one is being truthful, Funk and Brooks are the "nice" characters we can identify with.

Schrader mixes formal direction with pretentious sweeping shots and wobbly handheld scenes that add up to create an enjoyably trashy atmosphere. The film is awash in insinuating sexuality and moments in which the balance of control shifts in a relationship. The low-life mood is augmented by Brendan Canning's moody, sometimes cheesy electronic score. And what keeps us watching is that, as the connections between these four people get increasingly tense, we have no idea where it's heading.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, violence 4.Aug.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall