[Schrader] channels his feelings of disappointment, of longing, of an unnameable bummed-out something, through Lindsay Lohan. She's the picture's muse and its Shiva, its reason for existing and the force that threatens to tear it apart. People who don't understand movies often speak of them as escapism, a kind of passive fantasy. Lohan's performance in "The Canyons," so naked in all ways, is the ultimate retort to that kind of idiocy: To watch it is to live in the moment.
The final film is a tight, diverting piece of work. Its amusement (and limitation) is that it dares to take Ellis' florid cynicism deadly seriously... There is much more noirish kink and duplicity on hand. But Schrader tries to find the human side of it all, and he scores with Lohan, who taps a vulnerability beneath her dissolution to remind you why she's still a movie star.
She (Lohan) isn’t the best thing about this awful, lounged-out drama — it has no best thing — but in her defense, Lohan has been atrociously directed, allowed to get away with the worst aspects of her vocal-fry laziness, and trotted out like a symbolic objet d’art.
"The Canyons" is, in other words, a movie that simply doesn’t want to work in a conventional sense. There's something brazen, maybe even admirable, about Schrader’s mismatched camera setups, or the way he uses wide-angle lenses to cram as much empty space into the frame as possible. Schrader made his name with feverish portraits of self-loathing and self-destruction—his screenplays for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," his fractured biopic "Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters" —but here he adopts a tone so cold that it is becomes deliberately off-putting.
Like Sofia Coppola’s "The Bling Ring" earlier this summer, "The Canyons" is set on the fringes of the movie business, and stars its youngest and most beautiful barnacles. They both look like films about celebrity, but they’re really about exhibitionism, and the need modern young people have to express themselves, despite their utter lack of anything to express. When they run out of things to do, they turn to crime. In this world, fame and infamy are almost interchangeable. But if Schrader and Ellis set out to prove that movies are dying or already dead, they might have done their job too well. "The Canyons" doesn’t play like the cure for a moribund industry, so much as a mildly effective, highly depressing administration of the last rites.