The Canyons (2013)
Hard to believe it’s been 6 or 7 years since the implosion of Lindsay Lohan’s career. By which I mean, it feels like it should be decades, given how many times she’s been in and out of court, prison, and rehab, not to mention how much she appears to have physically aged in that short span of time.
The last time Lohan was actually the lead in movies, she was sweeping the Razzies and getting publicly spanked by a studio CEO for her chronic tardiness. But over the past year, she’s been attempting a comeback, albeit starting from the lowest possible rung of the showbiz ladder: First, by starring in a Lifetime Original Movie, and now, by headlining (and getting topless in) a direct-to-VOD “erotic noir thriller” that only exists thanks to a Kickstarter campaign.
But let’s be honest here: Lohan doesn’t really have that much to come back to. The notion that she’s some untapped vein of raw acting talent waiting for the right role never rang true. This idea gained a lot of currency among critics during her legal troubles, but the reality is this: Tina Fey wrote a great part for her. She performed it well enough, and reviewers began hailing her amazing acting skills, because I guess that was more acceptable than talking about how much they wanted to fuck her. You’d be hard pressed to say she gave a charismatic, nuanced performance in Herbie: Fully Loaded.
Having said that, Lohan’s performance in The Canyons is orders of magnitude better than her listless take on Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, this might possibly be her best performance ever. And I fully realize that’s not saying a whole lot.
Lohan plays Tara, a former struggling actress who’s found a comfortable existence with trust-fund baby Christian, who produces cheapo slasher movies just so he can tell the old man he’s doing something with his life. But financial security comes with a price: Tara also has to indulge Christian’s habit of trolling Craigslist and smartphone hookup apps for anonymous sex partners: couples, women, and men alike are all welcome to come on up to Christian’s hillside mansion for their turn with Tara.
But Tara is still in love with her ex-boyfriend Ryan, who also happens to be the lead in Christian’s upcoming film. And when he finds out about the affair, Christian goes ballistic, proceeding to secretly plot endless ways to humiliate them and destroy their lives. And by the end, it comes as not much of a surprise when Christian’s obsessive behavior takes a violent turn.
In the movie’s other notable bit of casting, Christian is played by James Deen, straight male porn superstar, if such a thing actually exists. Allegedly, he has a sizeable female fanbase, thanks to appearances in over 4,000 adult films, including Seinfeld XXX: A Porn Parody (in the title role, of course) and Teen Mom Farrah Abraham’s “leaked” “sex tape”. Despite a scene or two of the stilted acting you expect from porn stars, Deen does relatively well here, projecting just the right amount of evil lurking below his sensitive exterior.
The Canyons was directed by Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo, Affliction, and another film about the dark side of the swinger lifestyle, Auto Focus. It appears Schrader’s career has been on the downswing ever since he got fired from an Exorcist prequel back in 2003 and replaced with Renny Harlin. (In an odd footnote, when Harlin’s version tanked, the studio took the bizarre step of releasing Schrader’s original version to try to recoup their losses. Alas, it also sucked.)
Here, Schrader teams up with writer Bret Easton Ellis, best known for his novels about young, pretty people engaging in amoral and psychopathic behavior. And in The Canyons, he gives us… young, pretty people engaging in amoral and psychopathic behavior. Actually, these days, Ellis is probably best known for being a Twitter troll, often posting misogynistic and anti-gay remarks (despite Ellis himself being openly gay), and occasionally, trying to score some coke.
So it’s not terribly shocking that this diverse group of “talents” have all found themselves in a place where they can only make a film thanks to Kickstarter. The Canyons was highly anticipated, as in, highly anticipated to be a train wreck, ever since the New York Times published a feature about the making of the film, which mostly focused on how difficult Lohan was on the set.
But you know what? Despite the tumultuous shoot, the finished product is actually pretty good. Hooray for low expectations, I suppose, but for a film with a microbudget of maybe $250,000, it’s an engrossing piece of noir-ish melodrama. The trailers tried to sell it as some campy, winking-at-the-audience faux-grindhouse film, but it’s definitely not that. It certainly has its fair share of technical problems and wooden acting, but overall, the movie works.
Lohan’s performance doesn’t quite live up to the hype of her early career, but she lends a surprising amount of gravity and emotion to her character. Given that the character in question is coping with living under the same roof as an abusive, narcissistic asshole, I doubt Lindsay had to dig deep within herself to find inspiration to play this role.
It’s not a great film, but from everything I read leading up to its release, I was expecting a cheap, trashy film that was as rough around the edges as its lead actress, and it certainly delivered. The story behind how The Canyons was made is far more interesting than the movie itself, but it’s worth at least one on-demand viewing. There are worse ways to spend seven bucks.