The Curse of Downers Grove (2015) – By Baron Craze


Screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis, the creator of Less Than Zero and American Psycho, transforms Michael Hornburg’s novel into a quasi-horror movie, with more of a solid footing in the thriller genre, and trance elements of murder-mystery wrapped up nicely for the teenage market. The movie’s director Derick Martini delivers a fine quality movie, that stalled in development in 2011 and slowly progress various individuals aiding in the movie, only to find themselves abandoning it quickly and quietly, yet the story has qualities some explore and others left sitting alone, such as the Native American Tribal curse on the stolen lands. The case for the movie shows a teen directed audience for the film, and nothing more.

The story involves the town of Downers Grove and the curse of a senior classmate dying just before graduation and the lead actress Chrissie (Bella Heathcote of the Dark Shadows fame) leads the film for about 90% of the screen time, dismisses the curse as nothing more than bad luck and stupid decisions. Namely a student climbing a water tower drunk and high and falls to their death, which Chrissie rightfully points out that no curse exists, and just ignoring the issue will resolve itself. However it is all the students talk about as the countdown starts and herein the comical student insert in the form of a Stiles from Teen Wolf (1985) betting on the who, when, and how, sadly that never occurs to anyone to place into the movie, rather the lingering coldness echoes instead with some justifications. Nevertheless the motions of the teens doing stupid things continues as Chrissie and her friend Tracy attend a party and it winds up costing someone their eye, football career and eventually the lives of others. Perhaps in the end the curse revolves around the essences students especially teenagers do dumb things and those actions have consequences that affect their lives. An additional note, the far-fetched scenario of Chuck (Kevin Zegers) forcing himself onto Chrissie and appears in the early stages of attempted rape, and later the police do nothing, hinted his father, portrayed by Tom Arnold. Arnold featured as an aggressive man, who never takes kindly to the words “no” and “not able” instills and insists his son exact revenge on the guilty parties at all costs, for the destruction of his son’s dreams, yet the subtle hinting really his own dreams falling apart once again.

The convenient plot and quick dismissal of possible avenues of supernatural influences all cast away, and mythology and urban legends go unanswered, and then the strangest moment in the movie, her mother (Helen Slater) introduced to the audience and then vanishes soon afterwards. But wait isn’t graduation next week, and with parties, celebration a mother decides to vacant the grounds, sadly highly unbelievable, but waits another minor issue, Chrissie happens to the teen in America not connected to social media, while her younger brother and best friend both are, definitely impossible to believe. Some have argued that the film doesn’t delve deeper into the religious aspect, the concept of religion and regard for one’s life’s circumstances occur through fate or have a predestine paradox, and fault that on the writer and director. However, the film roots itself in thriller and tries to grasp for the slasher genre, and religious horror movie drives in another direction with more adult themes, rarely the realm for teen horror films, catering to the wrong targeted audience with the argument, though an interesting one.  Also as previously mention the student falling off the water tower, has the most ridiculous death scene, and poorly executed with awful acting, the teens appear with blank looks and a “aw shucks” theme with them all, no one dials 911 or to the worst photographs the body for social media, expressing another bizarre moment. Nevertheless a saving grace comes from realistic street fighting with tense punching and no martial arts aspects, a refreshing that slick and well design segments occurring often enough to keeps everyone attention and watch for a nasty facial shotgun blast.

The Curse of Downers Grove has a sly and clever premise and fulfills the requirements for a teen horror film and the fans of slasher genre might find some interest for this topic, however the essence of the movie really lies in the thriller genre and leaning to murder-mystery from that standpoint the true enjoyment of the movie excels.