The Canyons

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Canyons Movie Poster Image
Bleak film has unlikable characters, much sex, little point.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 99 minutes

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age 18+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It's difficult to find a positive message in a film that focuses on selfish and narcissistic characters who use each other at every point and still manage to get away without any kind of repercussion.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nobody in this film stands out as a positive role model. They lie to each other, are unfaithful to their significant others, use and manipulate people to get ahead, and care only about their own desires and needs. Nobody grows in any way that could be seen as a positive, and some clearly get even worse.


Someone is murdered, with blood shown on clothes. Several intense arguments between couples. Two men get into a shoving match that leaves one on the ground. A man menaces his girlfriend, yelling at her and threatening to hit her.


Several explicit scenes include full male and female nudity. Extended graphic sequences with a variety of sexual activities, including intercourse, oral sex, and group sex.


Many scenes include swearing, including "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch" "d--k," and more.


Though few brands are actually visible, the main characters enjoy the trappings of wealth, including fancy cars, stunning homes, and the latest high-tech gadgets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many scenes show people drinking beer, wine, tequila, and other hard drinks at restaurants, bars, parties, or just hanging out at home. Few social encounters take place without alcohol as the lubricant. Some people smoke cigarettes, and one scene includes cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Canyons is a very sexually explicit drama about unpleasant, self-centered people who are vaguely involved in the Los Angeles film industry. It stars James Deen, a real-life porn star, and Lindsay Lohan, who's better known these days for her off-screen mishaps -- stunt casting that's generated plenty of buzz for a bleak film about unlikable characters. Expect plenty of male and female nudity and graphic sex scenes, lots of drinking, some violence, and strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), as well as some drug use.

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Teen, 17 years old Written bykenwi December 11, 2013




What's the story?

THE CANYONS centers on Tara (Lindsay Lohan), and Christian, her rich and spoiled boyfriend (real-life porn star James Deen). They're vaguely involved in the Los Angeles film industry -- he's bankrolling a low-budget horror film, and she's helping produce -- but really, they're mostly involved in indulging themselves. He likes to arrange group sex encounters with Tara and anonymous people he finds online. And Tara is having an affair with the ex-boyfriend she helped land a role in the film she and Christian are working on. Driven by jealousy and anger, they're all on a collision course, though it's not clear for whom the audience should be siding.

Is it any good?

THE CANYONS achieved fame thanks to its behind-the-scenes stories and drama -- but its merits as a film are far less impressive. Pairing troubled starlet Lohan with well-known male porn actor Deen was guaranteed to draw attention, especially when paired with a script from Brett Easton Ellis, the successful writer who's made a career out of creating rich, jaded, amoral characters. Throw in director Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver, director of American Gigolo), and the film has all the ingredients needed to create plenty of heat.

But what we get is just a hot mess. Deen and Lohan are both compelling -- she's a pretty good actress, no matter what she does with her time off screen, and he's surprisingly charismatic. The main knock on Deen's Christian is that he's a one-note character who's all brooding menace -- though it's not clear whether that's because of the script, the direction, or just that it's Deen's only strength. No matter. Christian and Tara are just going through the motions of being a couple anyway; it's hard to see why they're together and why either should care if the other is unfaithful. And the audience has little interest in them. We don't much care whether they stay together or break up; either way, they're people we don't want to spend any more time with.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Canyons depicts sex and relationships. Is anyone in a healthy relationship? What role does sex play? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values on these topics.

  • Do you think this movie would have received much attention if Lohan wasn't the star?

  • What do Tara and Christian get out of their relationship with each other? Do they love each other? Do you think they even like each other?

Movie details

  • In theaters: August 2, 2013
  • On DVD or streaming: November 26, 2013
  • Cast: James Deen, Lindsay Lohan, Nolan Gerard Funk
  • Director: Paul Schrader
  • Studio: IFC Entertainment
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 99 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: strong sexual content including graphic nudity, language throughout, a bloody crime scene and brief drug use
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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