Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the edge of horror: The Canyon (2009)

Because I do not literally mention the word horror in my blog's title, I feel I can sometimes stretch the boundaries of traditional horror movie reviews and step into other surrounding sub-genres without taking too much slack. And so begins a recurring feature called On the Edge of Horror.

And we begin with something I recently saw on Netflix Instant Watch, The Canyon. While this film popped up as a recommendation in the horror genre, I call wholeheartedly tell you this is not horror. That being said, it falls under what I would call the 'Survival Film' classification, and the subject matter could, in fact, induce fear. As in my blog title. See, we've come full circle already.

The Canyon isn't horror. But it does induce a certain amount of fear. If there is anyone out there who can tell me they would not be needing a change of underwear if they found themselves lost and alone in such a vast location as The Grand Canyon, please do so, you big fat liar brave soul, you!

Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski), having just eloped, have come from Vegas to The Grand Canyon for a weekend of adventure. Nick has it in his head that riding mules into the depths of the canyon and doing some camping makes for a perfect honeymoon. Lori, on the other hand, just wants to shack up at the motel and get busy. But being the perfect little new wifey, she agrees.

They run into a slight snag when good ole' Nick didn't call ahead to make reservations for a guided tour and he is unable to secure a permit. Just when they've resigned themselves to sightseeing the old fashioned way, they meet up with Henry (Will Patton) - a past-his-prime former tour guide who'd be happy to take them down into the canyon! What luck!
So what does our daring duo do? They go with him, of course.

What you expect to happen (for Henry to gut them like fish far away from the regular trail and dump their bodies) doesn't occur at all. In fact, Henry really does seem on the up and up, taking them to little known places of great beauty and seemingly having a great knowledge of the canyon and all its history. He's not stupid, and has another mule with them to carry supplies such as water, food, and the prerequisite first aid kit.

When Henry makes the suggestion to ride off the designated path a bit to get to another unbelievable and amazing view (Huh? Seen one canyon you've seen them all, right?), the happy couple balks at first and then Nick pleads with Lori and she gives in. The amount of common sense that is lacking here is most certainly legendary. But they head off to see the sites.

There is some gorgeous scenery in this film, but having never been to the Grand Canyon myself, I was surprised to read the movie was actually filmed in Utah. Um...okay. Like I said, all canyons look the same.

Suddenly (!) a rattlesnake (a Western Diamondback for those who actually care about these details) scares the crap out of the mules and they start bucking and running, throwing all three of their riders to the ground. In the pain and confusion, Henry gets bit not once, but twice by the snake. One bite is right on his cheek, and there is a fairly cool scene of him cutting the snake away from his face and then actually pulling the head (and fangs) of the snake out of his cheek. Say it with me now...ouch.

With the mules hightailing it out of the area, the snake dead, and Henry dealing with two snake bites, Nick chases after the mules and Lori tries to fabricate a splint and sling out of twigs and ripped up clothing (where's MacGyver when you need him?!) Nick does manage to return with one of the mules, but not the pimped out one with all the goods.
So they're stuck. In the middle of the Grand Canyon. With no one to come looking for them due to the fact that they're off the beaten path, had no permit, no legal guide, no itinerary - and no god damned cell service.

I'm really not giving too much away when I tell you Henry dies. I mean, you kind of already guessed that, right? He succumbs to his nasty reptile bite by the next day and Nick and Lori decide it best to bury him, considering the stories about wolves in the area, and to avoid the already hovering vultures, crows and other scavengers.

After spending another night listening to the wolves howling in the distance, Lori and Nick start out early in the morning, certain they are heading the right direction. But as this is a survival movie, your bet would be a sure thing if you guessed they ended up right back at their former campground. Then they make the monumental mistake of attempting to scale the side of a mountain (because Nick has climbed an indoor fake rock and is an expert!) and in the process dangle off the side with the cell phone trying to get a connection. For just a moment, Lori is able to reach 911, but before she can even think about giving her location, Nick loses his grip, sending them both to the ground. While it seems like Lori should have most certainly broke her back, she struggles very little to get up when she hears Nick moaning in pain.
Nick has managed to fall in such a way that his foot is wedged in between two huge-ass boulders.
Naturally, Lori tries the old 'wedge a big stick in and try to move the rocks' trick, but it's a no-go - with these boulders weighing two tons each and probably as immobile as that dude from Man vs. Food at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

For fans of gore, there is a bit to speak of here. Nick's leg is completely stuck in said crevasse. So they do the only thing left to do when the wolves are knocking at your back door... Lori cuts off his foot. Right after she goes back to where they buried Henry and digs him up to get the knife they should have remembered to take off him before burying him in the first place. Oh my. The actual removal of the lower part of his leg is rather gruesome, but still tame as far as horror would go. (Certainly not as graphic as that scene in The Ruins - gah!)

Finally, the wolves appear! And damn if they aren't hungry. Nick's rotting foot must smell so tasty. Lori keeps the wolves at bay by using the same trick used in the (far superior) movie The Edge. She uses makeshift torches to surround her and the hubby so the wolves can't get to them. Regrettably, I have serious reservations as to the validity of this hair-brained idea. I really tend to think the wolves would just breach the wide open spaces between her torches and rip them to pieces. I mean, there was a pack of them, they seemed hungry, and they were most definitely pissed.

The remainder of the film is as foreseeable as the first part. Defending themselves from wolves and trying to figure out a way out of the canyon. Blah blah blah.

Comparisons to Open Water are inevitable here, so much that you could almost interchange the two , subtracting water and sharks and adding in dry, unbearable heat and wolves. Both are lost in unfamiliar territory, both are attacked by menacing predators, and both films are tales of the helpless agitation couples feel when faced with a problem neither can rectify.

The acting, while predictable, was still passable. The lead actor was simply lovely - quite nice to look at even though he was as pale as a vampire by film's end and should have been burnt to a crisp. Will Patton (Henry) has been in so many other things you are bound to recognize him immediately, and his over-the-top performance as the grizzly guide are part of what makes the movie bearable.
But inasmuch as it attempts to be a character-driven piece, it fails to garner our interest in the couple and their dilemma. We don't know enough about them to feel concerned for their welfare. Though adding to the film's running time just to throw in some background filler really might not have made that much of a difference.

The ending. Hmm... What can I say except "Meh." I should have found it shocking, but instead it felt like a déjà vu moment of sorts. I'd seen it in several movies before this one, so in all reality it felt perfunctory and blasé. I can't say I hated it, because I did watch the whole thing, but I'm glad it was an instant watch selection. Would have hated to waste a mail order movie on this.

For a good example of a survival film, check out Alive... or remind me to tell you about The Edge some day.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

1 comment:

the jaded viewer said...

I didn't like this movie which prompted me to make fun of it in my review Choose your own Adventure style.


And I've been to the Grand Canyon and its more fantastic than what they showed.