“The Canyonlands” sets its creative sights low for much of its running time.
The indie shocker traces genre formulas without shame, down to letting its character archetypes introduce themselves.
Then, without warning, we learn the truth behind the madman du jour, and that’s where a harmless genre romp loses all sense of proportion.
A resourceful trail guide named Lauren (Barkley) accepts a gig she wish she could turn down. She’s tasked with overseeing five Millennials (ugh) on an overnight trip in southeastern Utah. It’s not the campers that bug her, although they should given how unappealing they are.
Her previous trek down this trail left a camper seriously hurt. Even worse? Lauren still has nightmares about the trip, dreams that feel frighteningly raw and real. Little does she realize a serial killer haunts the path now, a ghoul who resembles a grizzled miner eager for bloodshed, not gold.
The five campers couldn’t be more disposable by horror movie standards. Lauren Capkanis captures everything awful about Instagram influencers, while Sheldon D. Brown smokes more weed that a Seth Rogen character as the stereotypical pothead of the group.
We couldn’t cheer on the film’s serial killer any louder. Nothing wrong with that, especially since the youthful cast leaves a firm, if off-putting, impression. Genre tropes exist for a reason, and the villainous miner is menacing enough to paper past the cringe-worthy dialogue.
— Dread Central (@DreadCentral) January 22, 2021
Writer/director Brendan Devane finds a few inspired shots amidst Utah’s natural beauty, but he’s hampered by a reliance on Syfy-style shocks. Genre fans adore practical FX, not gore created by ones and zeroes like what we see here.
Quick note: If your effects looks terrible, try not to repeatedly zoom in on them.
The film’s other glaring problem falls squarely on Devane’s shoulders. The prologue suggests there’s something more behind the miner’s mission than pure bloodlust. That leaves a third act reveal that stops the film cold. And there it stays until its silly finale.
Even worse? We barely cared about these characters in the first place. Now, we’re asked to invest in both them and a cumbersome back story that requires even more exposition to tease out.
The film’s score, a hybrid of styles that meshes better than expected, can only do so much to hold all these elements together. The screenplay taps into Native American themes in ways that make its horror cliches look sophisticated.
“The Canyonlands” isn’t necessarily woke, but it teeters in that direction without fully committing to the task at hand.
The thriller caps its horror trope montage with a final image meant to spark a sequel should the financials add up. That’s scarier than anything served up here.
HiT or Miss: “The Canyonlands” starts as a paint-by-numbers horror film, but it leans into a twisty narrative that squeezes the joy from that setup.