The Canyonlands goes in the opposite direction of many slashers. Instead of being in a claustrophobic setting in which escape seems impossible, the film takes place in the open where danger can come from anywhere. This is not a new idea in horror, but it is not always explored well. Writer-director Brandon Devane maximizes the setting in his directorial debut, but is it enough?
Lauren (Stephanie Barkley) is an adventure rafting guide. She has been chosen to lead a group of contest winners to The Canyonlands for an overnight experience. Though she is an experienced guide, they are heading to the site of a previous tragedy. Since she led that tour, she feels guilt and is reluctant about returning. Her fears are soon realized when the group has to fight for their survival.
The Canyonlands wastes no time in pulling out the horror tropes. With some obvious tweaks, the contest winners would have fit perfectly in any horror movie from the 1980s. There is the sexy social media influencer, the adrenaline fueled oversexed would be MMA fighter, the nerd complete with asthma, the pothead, and the one who is taking it all seriously. There is a familiarity that all too often spills into stereotypical.
The setting is what sets things apart. Devane revels in showing the vastness of The Canyonlands. There is beauty in the nothingness that adds to the terror of the whole situation. At times, it is easy to forget it is a horror movie. And that is something of a problem. The Canyonlands may look good, but it is aimless without the horror element. It is basically a bunch of annoying people hanging out with slightly less annoying ones. Even generic scary movies can work if they have engaging characters. The group here is never developed enough to be of any interest.
The film rights itself in the final act, but that will be too late for much of the audience. Even then, The Canyonlands gets bogged down with exposition. As things end, it becomes clear the film took on a little more than it could handle. The use of the gorgeous surroundings slightly set it apart, but it is otherwise unexceptional.
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