Devil-may-care honeymooners and packs of wolves -- they all go together like oil and water, Priuses and Hummers, the Bay Bridge and tenuous tie-rods. Such is the outdoor-adventure-gone-awry at the center of The Canyon, an indie thriller that flirts with some of the gross-out survival-horror of 2005 spelunking machisma nightmare The Descent, while playing to the what-if fears and worst-case anxieties that once fed Lost.
It starts promisingly enough: young beautiful, blank-slate newlyweds Nick (Eion Bailey of Band of Brothers) and Lori (Yvonne Stahovski of Chuck) decide to top off their impromptu nuptials with a spontaneous mule ride into the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately Nick forgets to obtain the proper permits for a backcountry jaunt -- his fatal flaw is apparently the lack of the planning gene (and seriously faulty judgement) -- but, for some reason that’s never adequately detailed, he’s really very intent on embarking on this mule ride. What does this himbo expect to find -- a totally awesome kegger on the canyon floor?
Lori doesn’t bother to figure out why it’s so important, though Nick’s mysterious dream is finally fulfilled by an equally mysterious codger Henry (Will Patton, with a smudged face and dirty drawl firmly in place) the couple meets in a dive bar. An old hand round these parts, he will somehow get his filthy mitts on the proper papers and guide them down into the canyon.
During the descent, Nick and Henry bond over a manly flask and chewing tobacky, and Lori finds herself in the unenviable position of the perhaps overly cautious, somewhat-girly outsider with trust issues. After she lets herself be talked into venturing away from the camp grounds by Nick -- some rarely glimpsed petroglyphs beckon -- the troika takes a fall while stumbling on a literal snake in their rocky Eden. Things proceed downward from there into a teeth-gritting abyss of amateur surgery and lupine menace.
Unfortunately a viewer might find him or herself hard-pressed to feel invested in a story that plays to the viewer’s own trust issues by dangling a few too many red herrings. Apart from a few nice snatches of truth-telling -- yes, the sweethearts should have gone to Hawaii instead -- the thinly sketched characters also make it a mite too difficult to care one way or another about their fate. Bailey and Stahovski also come off as a bit too sleekly perfect to make believable normals -- imagine a faceless Entourage understudy in the wilds with a quasi-Marcia Brady -- though Stahovski gets to sink her teeth into some meaty, girl-power moments. The logical issues that crop up -- how long can a person go without water in such spartan conditions -- are additional stoppers.
There are some harrowing moments in The Canyon -- not the least among them is every new bride’s nightmare: let the wolves gobble up hubby or resort to the unthinkable? -- and Patton, who tends to transcend his character parts, is always a watchable player. Ultimately, however, The Canyon is a briefly diverting genre exercise that loses itself in the wilderness and never rises above the confines of its flaws.