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STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
MSRP: $21.49
RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 102 Mins
.
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Discovering The Canyon
  • Behind The Scenes Montage
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Yvonne Strahovski Casting Session




The Pitch


“This movie will do for gorges what Jaws did for beaches. Or Beaches did for beaches.”

The Humans

Eion Bailey, Yvonne Strahovski, and Will Patton.

The Nutshell

Two newlyweds decide to explore the Grand Canyon, only to get tempted off the beaten path by an eccentric barfly. Somebody should’ve packed their sanity spray.


This
sign manufactured by ForeshadowCorp: Suggesting Tomorrow’s Problems…
TODAY!


The Lowdown

It’s spoilerific. You’ve been warned.

Horror fans are whipped. They’re romantics. No amount of diminishing returns (Halloweens 4 through The One With Busta Rhymes) half-assed set ups for brutality (Hostel) or resurrections (take your pick of slasher franchises) will ever stop a gorehound catching something that grabs them. Sure, you might catch something FROM it, but what if this is the “good one” you’ve been due after all the dreck? What, then? Will that redeem you for spending 7 quid on Cat in the Brain? WILL IT?

Probably not. However, The Canyon IS an appealing blend of the horror and thriller genres. Instead of a masked smile-bandit, the film pits its heroes against nature. In this case, the Grand Canyon. What it lacks in deformities, one-liners, and regenerative powers, this foe makes up for with seemingly incalculable vastness, oppressive heat, and inhabitants for whom flesh is the sweetest candy. The most rewarding element of this hybrid feature is the psychological edge that, although a little overt at times, brings a welcome weight to proceedings that not enough films in this vein share.


The
Bigger Brothers Program’s Arizona Chapter proved very successful.


Nick (Bailey) and Lori (Strahovski) elope on a whim and take off to see the Grand Canyon for their weekend honeymoon. After boning, she tries to convince him to just plow the weekend away and forget this outdoor trail nonsense. While tempted by the invitation, he declines – a move both will regret shortly. Nick’s plans take a knock, though, when it emerges that he’ll not be blazing any trails unless he can find a permit for his desired mule trip. Permit season was yesterday, incidentally. Disappointment wipe to Husband and Wife agreeing to let gnarled opportunist Henry (Patton) guide them through the eponymous Canyon (+ 2 imminent regret points!)

Director Mark Harrah wastes no time building a potent sense of dread. He fashions an almost Southern Gothic feel in the film’s opening sequence through everyday minutia gone awry. This Other Place, Williams, Arizona – “gateway to the Grand Canyon” – doesn’t drip with blatant menace, but there are one too many testy motel workers and silver-tongued strangers for things to be truly comfortable. It’s conceivable that the townsfolk upped sticks from the Greater Crystal Lake area at some point. Any snickers this draws are purely intentional and the ambiguity it creates is impressive. Harrah and screenwriter Steve Allrich understand that dusty, humid streets at dusk are creepier than clapped out neon signs and torrential rain. It’s a nice change of pace that leads to a surprisingly engrossing opening.


Will Patton must take the bulk of the credit for this atmosphere building, though. His journeyman rogue is a clear stereotype (Hung Over Solo, basically) but the delight he takes in showing off his litany of scars and illuminating every step of the trail with anecdotes and trivia is irresistible. We, just like Nick and Lori, buy that this man is a relic from yesteryear, a kind of modern day cowboy; all of this after first suspecting him to be a swindler only looking to make a quick buck from passing simpletons or possibly murder them with his large knife. The supernatural air around Henry, his tips and stories ranging from the various beasts he’s battled to ruminations on Major John Wesley Powell, a legendary figure in the Canyon’s history, inspire fear in a way towering psychopaths rarely do. Nick and Lori’s survival hinges on this man, making his inevitable demise (SPOILER!) all the more powerful.


Clearasil
weren’t kidding when they said they were pushing the skin care envelope.


It becomes clear around the rather plodding 40-50 minute mark that the plot’s too thin to justify a 102 minute duration. A few more darlings certainly shouldn’t have escaped the editing room. One too many “dead end” moments over-clarify the obvious, at times, and the film’s pacing inevitably suffers. However, the leads do their best to compensate for this with some solid chemistry. Rare are the movie lovers with a palpable sense of respect for one another, but Nick and Lori thankfully exude this. Lori’s willingness to surrender their last stick of chewing gum when faced with starvation is an act of kindness Lloyd Dobler would applaud.

Some genuinely
effective scares energize the puffy second act. Our central
couple falling off a cliff face whilst trying desperately to get a
phone signal, wolf encounters, and a gruesome de-legging
scene are all memorable. That said, even these pale
in comparison to the overwhelmingly bleak ending. Let’s just say The Canyon takes a
shot at The Mist’s
“I Dare You To Laugh After This” title. Nature is vengeful. Fear and
respect her more immediately!



“Bonerbelly,
we hardly knew ye.”


Knowingly ‘movie-talk’ dialogue intrudes, occasionally – “If we stop, we die!” The same amount of effort used to develop the underlying themes (isolation as a metaphor for a relationship and its many obstacles, man vs. nature) should have gone towards a script polish, too. Lori’s ascension into the de facto Final Girl is a welcome counterpoint to so many distressed damsels, and goes some way toward allaying technical misgivings. Strahovski shows enough sass early on for her transformation into the resilient, kick-ass wife of the film’s final third to make sense without seeming contrived. It’s a tough ask, not that you’d know it from the Chuck star’s assured performance. She accepts an impossibly bleak situation and fights for her life, as well as her man’s. Only the most misogynistic ballbags won’t root for her.

Bailey handles a less rewarding arc with similar aplomb. Nick is reduced from the assertive, boyishly charming husband of the film’s opening to a miserable, literally broken man who’s totally dependent on his wife. Bailey’s restraint here, imbuing Nick with a fragile, slow-burning despair, belies his confidence as well as ability. Films of this standing rarely have one character so well developed; that The Canyon has three is testament to the obvious care and talent involved. Strong set pieces throughout provide a sure footing (sorry) and even the irritating “I can’t get a signal!” trope – best exemplified in the overrated All The Boys Love Mandy Lane – doesn’t grate. Some welcome restraint keeps this from ever feeling like a narrative crutch (I’m so sorry.)


“These
markings can mean only one thing: Skullfoot’s layer draws near…”

The Package

‘Discovering The Canyon‘ provides a brief look into the film’s production. In offering the three principals plenty of opportunities to share their favourite aspects of shooting, it unfortunately overlooks those behind the lens, namely director Harrah and writer Allrich, a word or two from whom wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nor would a little time focusing on the impressive animatronics and stunt work that lent the action scenes such horror. The chance to hear Bailey describe when he really passed out during his amputation scene as “a wonderful moment in my career” makes up for this, though.

Inevitably, the gorgeous locations take prescience here, with the Canyon itself and Arizonan scenery receiving hearty endorsements from all involved. Nelson Cragg’s sweeping cinematography frequently dazzles, thanks to a first-rate transfer. Elsewhere, Strahovski’s Casting Session shows exactly why she got the part. The Aussie knocks through the script’s punchiest moments so confidently that this short reel could easily be mistaken for rehearsal footage rather than an audition. Some fairly superfluous deleted scenes, a Behind the Scenes montage similar to the main featurette, and trailers for other Magnolia Home Entertainment titles (Ong Bak 2, Humpday, World’s Greatest Dad, Is Anybody There?, and a pretty funny plug for HDNet and HDNet Movies featuring Kimbo Slice!) complete the disc. The Canyon is a superior low-budget feature in terms of scale and overall presentation quality. It’s a shame more mainstream dramatic fare often lacks the same ambition.



“Mmm… mustard.”

6.5 out of 10