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“THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE” (Film Review)

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Bret Easton Ellis is such a curious case when it comes to his art, especially considering his admirable consistency when it comes to his content. Ellis is an expert purveyor of brilliant trash, most of which exist somewhere between questionably tasteful melodrama and flat-out misanthropic exploitation. But Ellis, even through his peaks and valleys, remains steadfast in his refusal to compromise his envelope-pushing work, even if it were for his own good, such as in the case of Derick Martini’s THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE.

Though Ellis isn’t responsible for the source material (that honor goes to author Michael Hornburg), THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE definitely feels as if it follows down his thematic avenues considering how violently dramatic and taboo the story gets. For the unfamiliar, THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE follows Chrissy, a young woman who is skeptical of the town curse that one senior will die before their graduation, while her friend Tracy tries to enjoy the year believing she may be next. However, the story of the curse takes a backseat to a more integral drama between Chrissy and Chuck, a jock whose attempt to rape Chrissy leaves him half-blind and with a deadly grudge.

While THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE does feature some adult themes and spouts of brutal violence, the film feels more familial to MTV’s recent teen drama merry-go-rounds especially when the character’s reference the curse. In fact, the curse feels nothing more than a cheap MacGuffin for most of the runtime, at least until an effortlessly silly pay-off in the final moments that are punctuated by bizarre, arbitrary flashbacks. In this sense, THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE may make for engaging and trashy fun at moments, but the film becomes too bogged down in its routine and predictable drama to really make good on an otherwise interesting premise.

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In fact, THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE, even beyond a somewhat bloody and foreboding opening sequence, feels actively trying to avoid genre material. The curse itself is never addressed as a terrifying presence ala FINAL DESTINATION or THE OMEN, but rather it’s something that might happen because of an angry, violent rapist and his gang of goons. Is it still watchable entertainment? Sure, but it’s not necessarily thrilling or suspenseful. To that point, this writer wishes the curse was subdued even further and the material was treated with the dramatic caliber of a Stephen King tale rather than a sad, direct-to-video crime story.

One of the few reasons why THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE even works as well as it does is thanks to its strong cast, most of whom commit fully to the suburban exploitation-esque material. Bella Heathcote and Penelope Mitchell make for interesting and emotional leads, with Heathcote playing the stronger, more hardened of the pair, which pays off during the film’s dark finale. On the other side, the normally charismatic Lucas Till dials down his performance considerably (and intentionally) as Chrissy’s reserved and quiet boyfriend, who is refreshingly more resilient than he is a tough badass. And Kevin Zegers steals the show as the despicable villain of the film, whose cold desperation makes for a unique spin on the archetypal small town antagonist.

However, if not for Ellis’ interesting reshaping of the material, THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE feels rather pedestrian, settling for passable rather than intense or intriguing. By niether committing to a horror premise or gritty exploitation, the film finds itself clinging to its melodramatic premise and the performances on display to make the action entertaining. And as entertaining as THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE may be, it’s also dangerously close to uninspired, and with a fairly ho-hum visual style, there’s not much use summoning CURSE for multiple viewings.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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