Sunday, August 23, 2015
Movie Review: “The Curse of Downers Grove”
Movie: ** 1/2 out of 5
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Article first published as Movie Review: Not Even Bret Easton Ellis Can Save Us from ‘The Curse of Downers Grove’ on Blogcritics.
Probably the most interesting thing about The Curse of Downers Grove is that it’s co-written by author Bret Easton Ellis. After delivering such guilty pleasures as American Psycho, Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and The Informers, this is the first time Ellis has had any part adapting a book that wasn’t his own work. And, I’m not sure what motivated Ellis to be part of bringing Michael Hornburg’s book to the big screen (along with co-writer/director Derick Martini).
The titular Downers Grove is a small town where everyone knows everyone. Except in Downers Grove, every year — days before graduation — someone from the senior class dies. Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) doesn’t believe in the curse and is convinced it’s senioritis taking hold with kids being kids, i.e. using drugs and drinking alcohol. Something she half partakes of at a party with her friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell), where the jock Chuck (Kevin Zegers) tries to rape Chrissie. Defending herself, Chrissie blinds Chuck who stalks her at every turn and takes out his revenge on her friends and brother Dave (Zane Holtz). Eventually, Chrissie has to decide if she’s marked for this year’s curse or if she may be the curse itself.
We expect cold and disconnected from Ellis’s characters in his own work, but when it comes to a horror movie, you’re left with no one to root for. That should never be the case when the lead is the “final girl” a lǻ Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween or any other horror movie ever made. The biggest twist here may be that Downers Grove is more of a horror film in tone only, and that doesn’t work when there may or may not be supernatural elements at play. What we’re really dealt is a revenge thriller that — while not ending the way you’d expect — ultimately deflates in the last scene, making the whole endeavor a huge waste of time.
The cast isn’t particularly memorable. Mitchell and Holtz are the only two who look like they’re having any fun, while Heathcoate does what she can with a role any young actress could play in their sleep. The biggest problem with The Curse of Downers Grove is the lack of pacing. It plods along from one scenario to the next, never building a sense of danger or urgency once the pieces finally start to fall into place and the finale kicks into gear. And then there’s the ending. In the film’s biggest twist, it tries to turn into The Lovely Bones or American Beauty, but it’s really just a huge cheat, making the rest of the film completely superfluous.
If one thing’s for certain, Ellis should stick to adapting his own novels, or at least let more experienced screenwriters adapt while he sticks to the producers chair. As for The Curse of Downers Grove, anyone looking for a horror film will be left wondering what they just watched, and Ellis fans will be left searching elsewhere for his missing sardonic wit.