You have to be in a very dark place to want to see The Canyons. Luckily, that's always where I'm at. With a screenplay written by the notoriously nihilistic Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader (perhaps best known for directing American Gigolo), The Canyons is half Abel Ferrara movie, half American Psycho/Imperial Bedrooms. In general, it’s difficult for the “erotic thriller” to find its audience (just look at Body of Evidence), but that isn’t the real issue with The Canyons. In general, its main quandary is the lack of buildup to the denouement of the story. http://youtu.be/b5uTtNLUmCA
Opening with scenes of abandoned and condemned movie theater buildings, The Canyons starts out as potentially being one of those movies about the movie business. Christian (illustrious porn star James Deen) is the embodiment of a privileged L.A. trust fund baby. His sole reason for becoming involved in producing a slasher movie is to get his father a.k.a. “the asshole” to stop harassing him about doing something with his life. Christian’s girlfriend, Tara (Lindsay Lohan), once an aspiring actress herself, has also become heavily involved with the project. Christian’s assistant, Gina (Amanda Brooks), manages to help get her boyfriend, Ryan (Nolan Gereard Funk), the lead role in the film. What Gina and Christian are not aware of is that Ryan and Tara used to date and have been seeing each other since the movie’s production started.
At a dinner meeting between the four of them, Ryan is appalled to actually meet Christian in person and see how he talks to and treats Tara. Without abashment, Christian proceeds to tell Ryan and Gina that he arranges “assignations” with other people or couples to hook up with him and Tara. Clearly embarrassed and tense, Tara does her best to sustain an air of dignity throughout the rest of the dinner (though that’s automatically impossible when you live in Los Angeles).
The next day, Tara meets in secret (or so she thinks) with Ryan at the Century City Mall (because there’s no better place for a romantic rendezvous). He tries to plead with her to leave Christian, arguing that she isn’t happy, to which Tara replies, “Is anyone really happy?” and then goes on a vaguely convincing diatribe about not wanting to go back to having to struggle to pay rent. As Christian probes more closely into Tara’s actions, he realizes she’s in love with Ryan. And even though he cheats on her on the regular, he feels this is different because her feelings for Ryan are real.
Considering the film was made on a $250,000 dollar budget—largely funded by Kickstarter—it’s easy to see why The Canyons is so theme and relationship-based. The style parallels between the script and Ellis’ novels are eerie, though, of course, you’re probably better off just reading Less Than Zero. Even at the crescendo of the movie, Christian takes on a Patrick Bateman persona (plus, his name is Christian—like Christian Bale—so obviously he had to go that route). Still, even though Ellis’ novels are often written with a screenplay spirit, it’s more of a challenge to effectively convey such an extreme sense of misanthropy and apathy onscreen than it is on the page.