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Friday, March 12, 2021

[Review] ‘The Canyonlands’ Loses Its Horror in the Wilderness

The great outdoors long ago became a favored slaying ground for slashers. It gives the most bang for its buck in terms of production value, but there’s something inherently terrifying in the exposed vulnerability caused by vast open expanses; the killer could come from anywhere. The Canyonlands is a slasher that knows its star is the Utah canyon range that serves as the backdrop for a nature trip gone wrong. The horror component, however, fails to measure up to the breathtaking locale.

Stephanie Barkley stars as Lauren, an adventure rafting guide still reeling from a previous tragedy that occurred with an earlier tour group down a particular stretch of the Colorado River. She’s plagued with bizarre nightmares that threaten to bleed over into her waking life. Then she’s forced by her boss to take a new group, a fivesome of contest winners of an overnight experience, down that same spot that ended in disaster. Once the group sets up camp for the night, far away from cell reception, things take a deadly turn, and a fight for survival begins.

Making his feature debut, writer/director Brandon Devane makes it clear that he knows how to spotlight the natural beauty of the setting. Well framed and artistically blocked shots, along with fantastic work by cinematographer Alex Cantatore, highlights the plateaus under bright, starry skies. The distinct angles in many scenes are more effective for a tourism ad than a horror feature.

Supernatural elements get introduced straight away, then recede for a little while to set up a standard slasher complete with requisite archetypes. There’s the nerdy type that seems ill-suited for an outdoors expedition, an overzealous jock, a lesbian rock climber, an obsessed pothead, and a social media influencer. Enough time is spent introducing this unlikely bunch to quickly draw diving lines between the grating characters and the ones worth mildly rooting for before the cartoonish villain, Pete (Marqus Bobesich), enters the fray. With cringe-worthy dialogue, paper-thin stock characters, and a caricature of a killer, this slasher becomes a bit of a chore.

Part of the problem is a lack of identity or an inability to merge its contrasting personalities. On the one hand, The Canyonlands is a bland, one-note slasher. On the other, Devane is attempting to make a statement on the land’s history, in how the area is haunted by the ghosts of past traumas against Native Americans by greedy white miners. These two different horror paths don’t converge well in the end because there are no stakes or tension. This narrative has no emotional weight, making it challenging to find rooting interest when it goes from oversimplified to complex mysticism.

Devane’s debut works best in its earliest scenes that showcase the Moab Mountains and give the setting center stage. The beauty of it pairs well with the twang of Umphrey’s McGee’s score. If this were an adventure movie or Utah tourism marketing, The Canyonlands would have a solid foundation. As a horror movie, though, nothing works. There are no scares, no character work, dull kills, and a slasher villain so over the top stilly that it detracts from the messaging.

The Canyonlands is currently available on VOD.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3655342/review-canyonlands-loses-horror-wilderness/

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