Lauren (Stephanie Barkley, Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, Chasing Molly) is a river guide whose last trip through the canyonlands ended badly. One of the rafters was paralyzed and she nearly drowned. It’s left her with nightmares and a reluctance to return to that stretch of the river.
But when the scheduled guide falls ill she’s forced to take a crew of five contest winners on an overnight trip through those same canyons. It all goes well until they stop for the night by an abandoned mine and they find out the hard way they’re not alone.
After a fairly creepy nightmare scene, The Canyonlands gets off to a rocky start. The group is a diverse collection of stereotypes. Dave (Sheldon D. Brown), the only black guy, is “in the weed business” and seems to be intent on smoking his entire stock. Ryan (Jesse Buck-Brennan) is a short tempered MMA fighter who can’t stop picking on Kyle (Dennis Connors) the awkward, overweight computer geek. Sarah (Lauren Capkanis) is the selfie addicted influencer with a negative IQ and Jennifer (Ari Anderson) is the lesbian who has to prove that she’s tougher than any man.
Listening to them all snap at each other gets old VERY fast. Thankfully writer/director Brendan Devane brings the ghostly figures from Lauren’s nightmares and hallucinations into the real world early in the going. This includes the pickaxe wielding miner Pete (Marqus Bobesich, Blade: The Iron Cross, Clown).
The Canyonlands actually reminded me a bit of Scream. Not the franchise but a 1981 film with a great B movie cast that included Woody Strode, Ethan Wayne, and Pepper Martin about rafters who put up for the night in an Old West ghost town and suffer the wrath of a ghost. In that film, the spirit was a local who didn’t want company. The Canyonlands has a bit deeper backstory for its phantom killer.
It’s a pity The Canyonlands didn’t get into that backstory and how it all relates to Lauren’s nightmares sooner because it’s the most interesting part of the film. It all goes back to a massacre of a Native American tribe by miners during a gold rush. Now, like in The Fog, there’s a need to kill the descendants of the participants. However, it isn’t all as straightforward as that may sound.
Again though the script takes the lazy way out, and makes the unnamed tribe fairly generic Hollywood Indians. For a film with something to say about the treatment of minorities, The Canyonlands relies on tired clichés and stereotypes way too much rather than use accurate depictions of these groups.
The stalk and slash through the canyons have its moments, but a lot of it is ruined by scenes that were very obviously shot day for night. The actual daytime shots though are full of beautiful scenery shot in and around Canyonlands National Park.
The effects are also a very mixed bag. There are some nasty-looking wounds in the film but there’s way too much very obvious CGI blood and shots of Pete’s axe in people. Likewise, the film’s possession effects are poorly animated as well. If a low-budget film like Pickaxe can deliver a lot more mayhem with mainly practical effects The Canyonlands could have too.
I’ll give Devane credit for trying to do something a bit different from the typical slasher. Unfortunately, he just didn’t do it very well. If you really want some riverside slashings, take a Float Trip instead.