Monday, 2 September 2013

Review: The Canyons

Year: 2013
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Bret Easton Ellis
Starring: Lindsey Lohan, James Deen, Gus Van Sant (for some reason)

Synopsis is here:

Dull is not a word that I would use to describe, Paul Schrader, Bret Easton Ellis or Lindsey Lohan and yet The Canyons is a subpar piece that can only be summed up by that word. Ellis’ twitter spats; Lohan’s drug hell or Schrader’s upbringing would bring more interesting tales to our attention. What we have here is an over egged piece of softcore trash gussied up to try and be more interesting that it actually is. Don’t look at me as if I dislike trash. I remember recording Wild Things onto VHS tape. I was around when Sky Movies seemingly had all there shoddy thrillers before Channel 5 moved in. I’d be happy if The Canyons had a shred of the schlocky fun that some of those films had. Unfortunately it’s a turgid mess.

We open to a montage of disused cinemas, possibly alluding to the decline of cinema, perhaps it’s aiming at an ideal even loftier. It doesn’t matter as the film never really brings the point home. If The Caynons was able to transplant its love for architecture on to its characters, we’d have something tangible to grab on to. But what can we say about the people that we follow in this feature? Is there anything that they say or do that is worth our time? Ellis has often written about vapid, cynical people, but they've never been bland.

It’s easy to attack The Canyons for the sake of it, like so many people who do with popular celebrities that they claim to hate. But the film is truly a poorly constructed one, in a year where similarly sordid tales have been release with greater focus. I was not the biggest fan of Harmony Korine’s florescent nightmare; Spring Breakers, yet that film was at least well crafted in its execution of hedonistic emptiness. The Caynons makes even a basic shot reverse shot exchange feel like a chore.

The problem is; one can pick up on the films issues from the get go. With its limit budget, amateur actors and troubled lead actress, you get the feeling that pickups and reshoots would never be the order of the day. Far too often it feels like every shot taken is the first and only one. It certainly feels like the case with James Deen whose Bateman-lite character comes across as completely unthreatening. Deen’s enthusiasm does not match his talent and his graceless display seems to stem from a lack of direction more than anything else.  Compare Deen’s Christian to the disaffected gaze of Sacha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience and there’s a clear gulf in the quality.

But then again we’re dealing with a film in which Schrader, unlike Soderbergh, does little to play to the strengths of everyone involved. The juxtaposition of outrageousness and emptiness that looms over the work of Ellis is never utilised, while the voyeurism that litters Ellis’ works is also badly executed. But The Caynons is not really about that complexity. Its simplistic script is weak when compared to Ellis’ more popular long reads. Frustratingly, there’s nothing in the film that elevates it above its limitations.

You might have noticed I’ve said little about the films main draw, Lindsey Lohan. Mostly because there’s not that much to say. The actress has garnered praise elsewhere, but I found nothing of true interest in the role. Her face; now altered by surgery and caked with make-up captures the burnt out impression which her character needs for the role, but her actual performance gives very little. Much like the rest of the film, Schrader’s lack of control and Ellis’ poor script leave Lohan up the creek without a paddle.