DVR Roundup – The Canyons Is the Worst Film You Will Ever See

by Tony Shea on March 26, 2014


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Beginning this week I’ll be starting a new column where I review films that have been clogging up my DVR, some old, some new. Today I’ll be reviewing Paul Schrader’s 2013 film, “The Canyons,” which is so unrelentingly terrible that it makes “Grown Ups 2” seem like “Citizen Kane” by comparison. If you’re in a time crunch there’s simply no need to read any further, because to adequately address just how awful “The Canyons” is might require a scholarly dissertation of 50,000 words.

Starring Lindsay Lohan and real-life porn star James Deen, “The Canyons” is one of the worst films that I can remember seeing. Even considering that the film was made for approximately 150k, about what Michael Bay probably spends on shoes every year, the film is a catastrophic failure. In an otherwise even playing field, which is to say compared to any other film of any kind from any time period for any budget, it’s utterly pedestrian. However, when you consider Schrader’s pedigree in Hollywood over the last 40 years as a screenwriter (“Taxi Driver,” “Blue Collar,” “Raging Bull”) and director (“Hardcore,” “American Giglio,” “Affliction”), and to a lesser extent the career of writer Bret Easton Ellis (“Less than Zero” and “American Psycho”) it may be one of the worst films ever made.

I’ve written about and praised Paul Schrader previously. I appreciate his willingness to explore the dark realms of the psyche and to tackle sexually driven content. I think he’s a fascinating guy and I am pre-disposed to like just about whatever he puts out. And so I was ready to love “The Canyons,” ready to declare it some kind of subversive masterpiece if necessary. But within the first five minutes of watching it I already had a suspicion that was not to be the case. A half hour into it I was certain, though I still gamely continued to watch in the hope that some epiphany would flicker and the film’s true meaning and scope would come into focus and I would be able to sing its praises. An hour into it I was just hoping for anything at all that I could point to that might in some small way redeem the film, a single scene, some aspect of the acting, lighting, set design, camera work, cinematography, editing, or soundtrack; something, anything. I guess the end credits were pretty good since they, at least, represented a kind of relief from the otherwise numbing experience of the film.

I guess I could also say that Lindsay Lohan is not the worst thing in the film, which is not to say that she’s very good in it either, but considering what’s she’s working with she does the best she can. The script by enfant terrible Bret Easton Ellis is probably the worst part of the whole enterprise, lacking as it does even one line of dialogue that might be construed as interesting, along with its utterly flat one-dimensional characters. In truth, to say that any of the characters had one dimension is probably a lie. Really even to call them characters would be in some ways false, since they don’t even rise to the level of “pretentious, narcissistic, LA-movie-people-assholes” clichés.

Rotten tomatoes breaks down the plot of the film thusly:

While calculating young movie producer Christian (Deen) makes films to keep his trust fund intact, his actress girlfriend, Tara (Lohan), hides an affair with an actor from her past. But Christian becomes aware of her infidelity, which leads the young Angelenos into a violent, sexually charged tour through the dark side of human nature.

To call the film sexually charged seems ridiculous, since anything you might watch on Cinemax after 9 p.m. would be wildly more sexual. Despite numerous sexual situations, threesomes and foursomes, the overall dullness of the film is inescapable. Bret Easton Ellis would probably argue that is the point of the film, to show the shallow terrain of the characters’ emotional lives, their monotonous soullessness. But at some point it becomes impossible to differentiate between an empty vessel and an empty vessel that’s supposed to be a commentary on an empty vessel. They’re both ultimately empty. And so is “The Canyons” – there is simply nothing there to feel anything about.

The only recurring visual motif of the film is a collection of shots featuring abandoned and dilapidated movie theaters – an idea that movies aren’t what they used to be anymore in this IPhone age. With “The Canyons,” Schrader’s career now seems like one of these golden movie palaces from long ago, the facade cracked and faded, left in ruins.

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Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

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