Synopsis: A teen angst thriller at a high school gripped by an apparent curse that claims the life of a senior every year. Story follows a senior, Chrissie, who is skeptical, and another, Tracy, who believes that she may be the next victim.
Release Date: August 21, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Horror
From both a literary and a cinematic perspective, Bret Easton Ellis is one of the bigger-name writers in the world. First, he wrote the novels behind the classic films American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and The Rules of Attraction. Later, he dabbled in screenwriting by adapting his own book The Informers for the screen before diving into movies head-first by penning The Canyons. His movies have been met with varying degrees of box-office success, but it’s undeniable that his name alone carries weight amongst his cult-like fan base. And that weight is exactly what The Curse of Downers Grove is counting on.
The Curse of Downers Grove is set in a town called, yep, Downers Grove, where a high school senior is killed every year before graduation, leading the kids in the town to believe that their school is, you guessed it, cursed. A senior named Chrissie (Bella Heathcote from Dark Shadows and Not Fade Away) and her friend, Tracy (Penelope Mitchell from “The Vampire Diaries”), are skeptical of the curse, but still hold a healthy respect for it, because they know that graduation is coming up and, so far, no one from their class has died. While at a party one night, Chrissie is assaulted by Chuck (Dawn of the Dead‘s Kevin Zegers), a rival school’s football star, and while fighting him off, she puts out one of his eyes. The angry and humiliated (and now half-blind) Chuck recruits his buddies to begin stalking Chrissie, tormenting her, her family, and her friends relentlessly. Eventually, Chrissie enlists the help of Tracy, her brother Dave (Martin Spanjers from “8 Simple Rules”), and a dreamy local boy named Bobby (Stoker‘s Lucas Till) to help her stand up to the bullies.
So, in case it wasn’t clear from that synopsis, the titular curse in The Curse of Downers Grove is more of a backdrop than a narrative device. The plot of the movie is actually a tense and suspenseful revenge story rather than a supernatural curse tale. The screenplay was adapted by Bret Easton Ellis and director Derick Martini (Lymelife, Hick) from the 1999 novel Downers Grove by Michael Hornburg (who also wrote the novel for Bongwater). The movie itself has a hip, young feel to it, similar to that of the Scream movies or, more recently, It Follows, and, in typical Easton Ellis fashion, it’s loaded with a kind of dirty sexual tension. But, don’t let the high school shenanigans fool you; when it gets down to it, The Curse of Downers Grove is a brutal and disturbing film. It just smiles its pearly whites through the blood and bones.
Those who are expecting a pure horror film from The Curse of Downers Grove may end up a bit disappointed; the movie isn’t as slasher-y as the title (or the trailer) makes it seem. It is, however, a well-crafted thriller with plenty of clever twists, some diabolical characters, and even a couple of stunning Luis Buñuel-esque surreal dream sequences, all under the watchful eye of a ticking clock that comes in the form of the dreaded graduation curse. If you can keep up with all of that, The Curse of Downers Grove is a fun ride.
There are a handful of good scares in The Curse of Downers Grove, but most of the horror is brought about by the sick and twisted ideas within the context of the film. When Chrissie puts Chuck’s eye out, his father (played by Tom Arnold from, well, being married to Roseanne Barr) is more concerned about the ruination of his son’s football career than his actual well-being. But that’s not the horrifying part; Chuck’s dad is a cop, and that little fact makes it possible for Chuck and his friends to go after Chrissie and her friends with absolute immunity from the law. So Chuck and his buddies dawn ski masks and gang up on Chrissie’s boyfriend and brother, brutally beating them with no accountability for their actions. And the beatings are brutal; that part is truly cringe-worthy and horrifying. The lack of legal repercussions is actually more infuriating than frightening, and it’s a testament to good filmmaking that the circumstances and sequences of events can draw such ire out of the audience. The horrifying portrayal of the thugs makes it that much more satisfying when they do get their inevitable comeuppance. It’s disturbing and real, but The Curse of Downers Grove is not really scary in the traditional sense of the word.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Derick Martini
- Producer(s): Jason DubinOren SegalChiara Trento
- Screenwriter(s): Bret Easton EllisDerick Martini
- Story: Michael Hornburg
- Cast: Bella HeathcotePenelope MitchellZone Holtz Mark L. YoungHelen SlaterTom ArnoldLucas TillKevin ZegersJacqueline EmersonMartin SpanjersSteven MartiniMarcus Giamatti
- Editor(s): Kayla Pagliarini
- Cinematographer: Frank Godwin
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Kerrie Kordowski
- Casting Director(s): Eyde Belasco
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA