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Film Review: The Intriguing Third Act of “The Canyonlands” Can’t Save the Otherwise Bland and Hackneyed Plot

Written by: Matt Patti | March 4th, 2021

Film poster: “The Canyonlands”

The Canyonlands (Brendan Devane, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.

In my time watching and reviewing films, I’ve come across many that are uneven. Quite a few have a great setup in Act I, followed by a compelling and engaging Act II, but miss the mark when it comes to Act III. Many films are spoiled by a decision made in the conclusion that either discredits the rest of the film or leaves the audience unsatisfied. However, it is much rarer, at least for me, to encounter a film that does exactly the opposite: a film that is quite terrible in its first two acts but shows promise in its third and actually pulls me back in. Such is the case with director Brendan Devane’s The Canyonlands. What is a poorly written, laughable attempt at horror for two-thirds of its runtime turns into an appealing, intriguing story in its final section. If only the rest of the film followed the direction and themes of its conclusion.

The Canyonlands tells the story of Lauren (Stephanie Barkley), a Utah local who helps out with rafting expeditions along the Colorado River. When five people win a contest for a free overnight rafting trip down the river, the area chief asks Lauren to lead the trip. Unfortunately, the five people turn out to be some of the most annoying and stupid folks that Lauren has ever encountered. After a long day of rafting, the group decides to make camp for the night on the canyon edges around the water. Soon, they realize that they are not the only ones who are in the canyon that night and find themselves in grave danger.

For most of The Canyonlands, I held the opinion that it may be one of the worst films I’d ever seen. The characters, outside of Lauren, are all complete stereotypes; quite the surprise in what I thought to be a time of acceptance and understanding in regards to different cultures, races, and personality types. But in The Canyonlands, we have an annoying social-media influencer who is obsessed with fitness and selfies, a self-absorbed jock who always wants to enter into a competition with someone, a computer nerd who is awkward and easily frightened, an African American man who smokes weed in almost every single frame of the film he’s in, and a lesbian who acts tougher than the rest of the characters and wants to sleep with the other women on the trip.

Still from THE CANYONLANDS ©Freestyle Digital Media

Normally I’d praise a cast of characters with this much diversity, but the movie destroys them with literally the most common, offensive, overplayed stereotypes there are, ones that I thought the film industry was moving away from. The performances for each of these characters are all quite bad, as well, but I blame the horrid writing more than the actors’ lack of ability. With unimaginative dialogue and poor characterization, they aren’t given much to work with. Aside from the awful characters, the first two acts of the film also include some of the worst decisions I’ve seen made in horror movies, along with continuity errors and logic gaps, idiotic explanations, and typical horror movie clichés.

However, long after most of the audience has already checked out and made up their minds about the film, it suddenly shows a bit of promise. The conclusion actually wakes us up and raises our interest. The only tolerable character, Lauren, deals with an unexpected obstacle that the audience does not see coming. I won’t say anymore, to avoid spoilers, but it actually works quite well and tells a much better story than the entire rest of the film, though it is also filled with some lengthy exposition.

Stephanie Barkley in THE CANYONLANDS ©Freestyle Digital Media

The only positive aspects of the film are the beautiful scenery, the effort put in to show some violent scenes effectively, and of course, again, the surprising conclusion. Otherwise, The Canyonlands fails miserably in every other aspect. I can especially see many being annoyed, or even offended, by the overly stereotypical characters presented. Perhaps a complete re-do of the characters and first two acts of the film could make it watchable. Oh, what could have been …

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Matt Patti is a Stevenson University alumnus who graduated with a degree in Film & Moving Image, with a concentration in producing and writing and a minor in communication. He has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films since a very young age. Matt has recently moved to the Baltimore area and currently works full-time as a Video Production Assistant. He also enjoys creating short films with Baltimore-area friends to enter into contests as well as purely for the love of the craft.

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