ByAndrei Savenkov, writer at
Journalist with a passion for movies
Andrei Savenkov

Most people have heard of the 2013 film The Canyons, because the erotic thriller marks the last time leading lady Lindsay Lohan appeared on the silver screen.

Written by author Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader — who helmed classic 1980s crime drama American Gigolo The Canyons tells the story of young, rich, emotionally unavailable LA boy Christian (played by porn star James Deen), who attempts to stave off his boredom by way of an increasingly sexually deviant lifestyle. His girlfriend Tara, a model/actress with no real career to speak of, played by Lohan, struggles with Christian’s psychotic behavior and jealousy, but she is stuck in the relationship due to her reliance on his money and lifestyle.

The movie was meant to be a comeback for a lot of people — not only for Lohan, but for Ellis and Schrader, with each of them struggling to recreate their previous career successes.

The Film's Production Is More Intriguing Than The Film Itself

Before The Canyons was known as Lindsay Lohan's vehicle, it became one of the first movies to be financed on funds raised via Kickstarter — a pretty common financing technique nowadays.

The project amassed nearly $160,000 on , with additional investments of $100,000 allowing production to commence. At first, the producers pitched roles to a number of big-name actors including Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Renner, but they declined.

But when came on board, with her reputation of being a troublemaker, that's when Hollywood and the tabloids began to take notice.

Perhaps in a bid to drum up positive marketing, a correspondent from The New York Times was invited on set to document the production, but this turned out to be a mistake. The article revealed on-set brawling, screaming and fighting, and the fact that Lohan was repeatedly late and unprofessional:

By midweek, Schrader and Lohan were locked in battle. One afternoon, he shot some of the lead-up to the movie’s pivotal sex scene. Lohan wasn’t happy.

“I hope you got my triple chin on that one,” Lohan said to no one directly. “That shot was hideous.”


That’s when things started to get really weird. Lady Gaga was now staying at the Chateau, and that wasn’t great news for “The Canyons.” Lohan missed her morning call, and then she left the shoot for lunch with friends, running up a $600 tab on sushi, sake and vodka.

The NY Times piece was not the only negative press that the film's production received, and even though Lohan clearly behaved unprofessionally on set, she was not the only one. Both Schrader and also displayed divo tendencies and it might explain why they both have had trouble securing high-profile gigs since then.

In fact, according to The New York Times, Schrader even declined Oscar-winner director Steven Soderbergh's offer to make a final edit of the movie:

“The idea of 72 hours is a joke,” Schrader said. “It would take him 72 hours to look at all the footage. And you know what Soderbergh would do if another director offered to cut his film?”

I said I didn’t. Schrader leaned back in his chair and gave me two middle fingers.

“That’s what Soderbergh would do."

From The Valley To Hollywood

Worth mentioning is that the casting of James Deen is rather left field, too. According to The Canyons producers, they wanted to cast someone edgy and unexpected, so they picked Deen, who was famous for a different sort of cinematic work at the time. Maybe under different circumstances the choice to cast a porn star in the lead role would be inspired, but considering Lohan's notorious reputation as well as Ellis and Schrader's tendencies for sleazy material, all these elements together brought the film to a very thin edge between erotic thriller and an actual erotic film with the elements of thriller.

[Credit: IFC Films]
[Credit: IFC Films]

Even though some critics and viewers commended Deen's performance, his inclusion in the cast overshadowed the film. As documented in an audio recording that was leaked to TMZ , Lohan seemed to resent Deen, criticizing his acting during rehearsal for the movie:

“Let's actually do the scene — you're like this, yeah? But you're holding me, no? OK, let's act. I know it's for fun for you, but let's do it. … No, but can you do — please James, say your lines as you're walking over, because we are doing rehearsal with the lines, are we not? Do your fucking job!"

Seeing as their characters have a strained relationship in the movie, the real-life tension between Deen and Lohan should have benefited their characters. Instead, the bickering resulted in a lack of chemistry between the two.

From The Canyons To The Heights

After production wrapped, the movie faced a slew of humiliating rejections and was denied screenings by such major films festivals as Sundance and SXSW.

The Canyons did, however, premiere in the out-of-competition section at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. Lohan failed to promote the film at that festival, fearing it would have compromised her sobriety following her sixth stint in rehab. Her absence was heavily criticized by Schrader.

Surprisingly, the film did turn out to be profitable — at least, for its producers. Made on a $250,000 micro-budget, according to Yahoo! Movies, The Canyons was later sold to IFC Films for a reported $1 million, with Lohan receiving a share of the profits according to her contract.

The Canyons was slammed by critics and failed at the box office. It received an audience score of just 15 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet many praised Lohan's performance as the only reason to watch the film. Moreover, in some countries, the movie was warmly received by critics, including in Australia where it picked up several awards at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival.

Some people even predicted that The Canyons would eventually gain a cult following. As of 2017, the public perception of the movie has not particularly changed, but there is no actual time limit for a film to gain a cult status.

Do you have a favorite so-bad-it's-good movie? Sound off in the comments below.


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