To humbly borrow from the last line of the late Roger Ebert’s great review of The Human Centipede, The Canyons “is it what is, and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” This movie, meant to poke the anxieties of a dying cinematic experience, is its own type of film project, but its bizarre existence isn’t something to be readily categorized along with the expansive film population. The Canyons, with its junky intent of making a serious expression out of dumb waste, certainly isn’t the stunning bad art of its titular location that it dreams of being.By all means, this movieis ugly, terrible and trashy. The film’s worst offense, however, is that it is not an interesting piece of bad art. Like this past year’s Spring Breakers, the ironic and serious intents of The Canyons are so indefinable that they cancel out the purpose of one another. Worse still, this movie is devoid on the inside and out of anything that strikes as good; at least Spring Breakers had James Franco’s meme-ready performance, as well as a fascinating opening scene. Here, The Canyons can only be marked as an entertaining experience because large chunks of it are so, so, so bad.In a story from writer Bret Easton Ellis that would be even duller without the strange lead casting of Linday Lohan. The former celebrity plays Tara, a vapid Los Angeles woman working in the production business of Hollywood. She shacks up with her boyfriend Christian (porn performer James Deen, who has more IMDb credits than Shakespeare) in his swanky mansion, maintained more by his rich kid trust fund than his own artistic success as a filmmaker. A highly possessive date mate, Christian has a habit of sharing his dominance of Tara with other men, sometimes inviting strangers to masturbate and watch while the two lovebirds make hanky panky.Despite this open field of sexuality, Tara still has to sneak around with her fling Ryan (Nolan Funk), who is also dating her friend Gina (Amanda Brooks). And despite his own affair with a woman named Cynthia (Tenille Houston), Christian goes crazy when he deduces that Tara might be cheating on him.Likely hired primarily for the off-screen gossip magazine baggage she can bring into the aura of this movie, Lohan flat lines about as much as one would expect in the role considering her track record of performances in the past few years (which certainly includes her work on recent Lifetime biopic Liz & Dick). At the most, Lohan herself stands as a decaying monument of memorable cinematic experiences of the past, such as when I saw Mean Girls at the National Amusements 7-14 Cinemas in Lawrence, MA when I was 15. Regardless of its unintentional dark humor, this role marks another downward tragedy for Lohan, sending her further beneath the dark currents that directionally oppose an artistic revival.She shares a fair amount of brooding screentime with Deen, who seems to be Ellis’ own attempt to regain the American Psycho character from the previous famous embodiment by Christian Bale in Mary Harron’s adaptation of that novel. Deen is a vacant staring man who isn’t colored by his irritated sociopath attitude, or by his awkwardly delivered dialogue, which he and Lohan exchange like they haven’t finished rehearsing it. With opposing hints that Deen may be in on the mysterious joke of this movie, but also that he may not, this performance is one of The Canyons’ own special contributions to the world of bad movies.For moviegoers who don’t just enjoy bad movies for gaudy effects or hammy acting, but giddily shotgun them to see mind-blowingly unfortunate choices in the craft that is filmmaking, The Canyons is for them. This movie a readymade drinking game for those who appreciate filmmaking goofs, especially those who have witnessed enough film school student projects to identify the plain aesthetic mistakes that are the result of simple incompetence. To the film’s benefit, these are the elements that make the picture a relatively brisk viewing experience, a seedy disaster that holds the attention more than a lot of better movies. With their official status pending, my rules for a “Canyons Drinking Game” as submitted to the Vatican are:-Take a sip for every scene that is wildly overexposed, as if it were a missing scene from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.-Take a sip for every shot that seems like it was stitched together with the wrong take.-Take a sip anytime a conversation is framed poorly, take a second drink when negative space becomes highly distracting (such as when, I don’t know, a UPS truck comes barreling in the direction of Lohan and a lunchmate, a la the end of The Final Destination).-Waterfall with your fellow drinking buddies whenever there’s a mopey chapter interlude that includes more abandoned movie theaters from the opening credit sequence.
Giving director Paul Schrader some credit, the direction is likely making all of these distracting filmmaking snafus intentionally. As indicated by the decaying images of cinemas, moviehouses and multiplexes across the country, along with all of the banter about “going to the movies,” The Canyons aims to expose the technical craft of filmmaking. This is indeed what bad digital filmmaking looks like when all of these accessible cameras are put in the hands of low budget, low idea storytellers, complete with lazy construction of image framing and even an obligatory masturbatory extended take that follows a character around of the movie’s heavily modern LA settings.But such cynicism only reaches to the level of damning dumb student films that unintentionally look like The Canyons, as opposed to criticizing the products, of various budgets, that once gloriously played at the decaying cinema paradisos now photographically presented with a Tumblr’s subtlety in the movie’s interludes. The highly bizarre picture never gets recognized for feeling like another movie; it certainly doesn’t remind us of any memory we would have seen in a regular theater in this dimension.Den of Geek Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars