The Canyons


US | 2013 | Directed by Paul Schrader

Logline: A jealous young movie producer suspects his lover of cheating on him and slyly infiltrates her connections in order to expose her.

On paper this read as the great erotic neo-noir; Paul Schrader at the helm of a low-budgeter, Bret Easton Ellis as the scribe, Lindsay Lohan as the femme, a male porn star as her nemesis, an uber flash hillside pad, the dappled light of California, the dangerous edge of Tinseltown. Stir in a heady dose of jealousy, manipulation, bisexuality, intrigue, and deception, and everyone should be home and hosed.

But The Canyons unravels long before the noose tightens. There is so much more promise than deliverance, the house wants to grind, but the meat remains wrapped. Well, mostly. There is definitely a sleazy allure, a seedy appeal, a hint of provocation, and a flash of the merchandise. And therein lies the Rub; considering the agent provocateurs onboard this production, why wasn’t this played to the sordid hilt?!


Christian (James Deen) is a classic Ellis character, a cool, detached, egocentric trust fund kid with a loose career as an independent producer working on the outskirts of Hollywood. His latest film project features Ryan (Nolan Funk), a matinee idol-esque player who is having an affair with Christian’s lover, Tara (Lindsay Lohan). To complicate matters, or maybe just to grease the situation further, there is Ryan’s girlfriend Gina (Amanda Brooks), and Cynthia (Tenille Houston), an ex of Christian’s who is still his fuck-buddy.


I was waiting for a character from one of the screen adaptations of Ellis’s novels to turn up, perhaps Tara might bring home Vic Ward (Kip Pardue) for a threesome, or Christian might bump into Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) coming out of his therapist’s office, or Blair (Jamie Gertz) might be smoking a cigarette at the next café table. Or maybe even Ellis himself might stroll past on the footpath and glance knowingly at the camera.

Funny that, because two of the characters in The Canyons do just that: turn and gaze straight into the lens, the eye of the camera, breaking the fourth wall, in a way reminiscent of the self-reflective tearing of the reality fabric that he does so brilliantly in his novels Glamorama and Lunar Park. It is these two moments that seal the Ellis stamp on the movie, and the overall tone and atmosphere of the movie. It’s a shame Ellis wasn’t game enough to really push the boundaries. Or perhaps he was, but Schrader felt it necessary to reign in some of the excess.


There’s full-frontal nudity, mostly male, though it should be duly noted that Lohan does not deliver the full monty. The movie’s most sexually provocative scene, a foursome, is much tamer than it should have been, with an earlier scene being the movie’s most notable “NC-17” moment; a random guy casually jerking off on the sofa whilst watching Christian go down on Tara.

Performances are precarious; James Deen was surprisingly convincing, considering his most prized asset was kept under-wraps for the most part. Nolan Funk oozed charisma, and tries hard, while the movie’s real star, Lindsay, gave off a Norma Desmond air of worn out quiet desperation, her once striking good looks lost behind foundation and heavy eye shadow, many years of heavy partying. She’s 26-going-on-46. Lohan is the movie’s anchor tearing through the loose sand on the seabed as the movie crashes on the surf.


The Canyons’ dreamy visual narrative of drifting camerawork, soft pastel cinematography, and a languid mise-en-scene is the movie’s best feature, and the imagery that lingered longest, and had the most symbolic resonance, was the opening montage of lost suburban movie palaces and cinemas, those that have become derelict, shuttered up, abandoned. They appear occasionally through the rest of the movie, as momentary visual interludes, a poignant motif of desertion, estranged melancholy, social decay, and glamour gone west.

This is not an exit. It’s Ellis courting Tinseltown. Rock and roll. Deal with it.

The Canyons screens as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival, tonight, Sunday 8th, 7:30pm, Cinema One, The Factory Theatre, Marrickville.