Red Canyon

Red Canyon

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Maybe I'll find myself out here, y'know. You really understand what you're made of in a place like this."

The place is Cainville, Utah, an arid and isolated, if picturesque, maze of canyons, dunes and mesas, riddled as much with dark unspeakable secrets as with hidden moonshine tunnels from the Prohibition days. The speaker, Devon (Tim Draxl), quit this place with his sister Regina (Christine Lakin) eight years ago following a horrific incident in a cave that left them both scarred – even if Regina, for one, can no longer remember exactly what happened. Now they are back with three college friends (Katie Maguire, Justin Hartley, Ankur Bhatt), as Devon tries to decide whether to keep his late parents' property, or to sell it on to local 'wetback' bar-owner Walter (Walter Rodriguez).

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As Regina becomes reacquainted with her her old flame (now deputy sheriff) Harley (Noah Fleiss) and aggressive local thug Mac (Norman Reedus), she begins experiencing confused flashbacks to that fateful day in the cave – flashbacks that do not quite tally with the story that she has been told of what went on there. Revisiting the primal scene of her trauma, she is viciously attacked once again – and a figure in a gas mask starts murdering local lawmen, visiting outsiders, and anyone else whose presence risks exposing the secrets of the region.

Location is inextricable from the broader preoccupations of Giovanni Rodriguez's feature debut. Here the landscape is as cracked and porous as the unreliable narrative that unfolds in its environs. Here the dark, winding interiors of a mountain cave reflect Regina's diabolically narrow perspective (or, as it were, her tunnel vision). Even the title itself, Red Canyon, is evocative not just of a real geographical space, but of gaping wounds and bloody accesses - of the violent penetration by knife, pole or penis - that will come to dominate the story. And all the setting's wild, unaccommodating harshness has its analogue in the human psyche, as the otherwise parched surroundings come to flow with off-the-leash impulses and bad, bad blood.

From its clichéd portrayal of a redneck community, to its My Bloody Valentine brand of gasmask-wearing slice and dice, to its line-up of co-ed victims-to-be, there is much about Red Canyon that is, or at least seems, highly conventional. Yet from such familiar materials Rodriguez weaves an incestuous blurring of genres – now amnesiac psychodrama, now desert gothic, now grotesque slash-n-dash, now perverted tragedy - that is genuinely disorienting, even if all these different strands are ultimately twisted together into a neat solution.

It remains debatable whether Red Canyon truly adds up to enough in the end to merit the rather close concentration required from viewers to find their way through its network of dark passageways. Still, Sonnel Velazquez's widescreen landscape cinematography, as well as the sustained ambiguities of both the screenplay and some of the performances, reward our attention with the pleasures of overt spectacle and well-concealed craft. And while few if any viewers will be able to find themselves out in the baroquely alienating place to which the plot finally brings them, it is certainly depraved and harrowing enough to preclude accusations of compromise. Or, as one character puts it, "Sometimes when you look in dark places, there are real monsters there."

Reviewed on: 27 May 2011
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Trouble brews in redneck Utah for a pair of siblings trying to come to terms with a horrifying attack.
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Director: Giovanni Rodriguez

Writer: Laura Pratt, Giovanni Rodriguez

Starring: Christine Lakin, Tim Draxl, Katie Maguire, Norman Reedus, Justin Hartley, Noah Fleiss, Ankur Bhatt, Andy MacKenzie, Richard T. Pratt, Walter Rodriguez

Year: 2008

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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