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Horror fans enticed by its provocative title are likely to be mightily disappointed by Derick Martini‘s violent teen melodrama based on Michael Hornburg‘s novel. Co-scripted by a slumming Bret Easton Ellis, The Curse of Downers Grove is all over the place in tone, never managing to decide what kind of film it wants to be.
As revealed in the film’s title, the action is set in the Chicago suburb where a supposed curse is afflicting the local high school. The curse: one member of each senior class will suffer a gruesome death just before graduation day, the most recent example being a druggie who fell to his death after climbing a tower.
This year, it seems to be Chrissie Swanson’s (Bella Heathcote) turn, after the serious-minded young woman is nearly raped by Mike (Kevin Zegers), the school’s star quarterback, during a raucous party. To free herself from his attack, she practically gouges out his eye, destroying his and his abusive father’s (Tom Arnold) dreams of his ascending to a pro football career.
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Rather than face up to his guilt, Mike and his fellow jocks embark on a campaign of revenge against the hapless Chrissie; her younger brother Dave (Martin Spanjers); her hunky new car mechanic boyfriend Bobby (Lucas Till) and her best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell). It doesn’t take long for the violence to escalate to massive proportions which include Chrissie’s locker being blown to smithereens and the corpses of dogs littering her front yard. Somehow, none of it seems to interest the local cops or any other adults in the vicinity.
The film touches on supernatural themes, suggesting that the curse is the result of the town having been built on land stolen from Native Americans. Adding to the Poltergeist-like vibe are several surreal dream sequences in which a menacing looking Indian glares directly at the camera.
Although its themes of violent macho aggression are in line with such previous works by Ellis as American Psycho, it’s hard to imagine what drew the author to such low-grade, B-movie material. Director/co-screenwriter Martini’s blunt approach—the character played by Arnold is wildly over-the-top, and the violence is rendered with sickening realism—does little to elevate the proceedings
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Heathcote is appealing in the lead role, even when her character behaves inconsistently, and Zegers is effective as the coke-snorting, would-be rapist. But for all the commendable efforts of its youthful cast, the film’s true curse is mainly one of mediocrity.
Production: AliBella Pictures, Bystander Films, Management Production Entertainment, Mangrove Media, Myriad Pictures
Cast: Bella Heathcote, Lucas Till, Penelope Mitchell, Tom Arnold, Kevin Zegers
Director Derick Martini
Screenwriters: Derick Martini, Bret Easton Ellis
Producers: Jason Dubin, Oren Segal, Chiara Trento
Executive producers: Bret Eason Ellis, Bernardo-fort-Brescia
Director of photography: Frank Godwin
Production designer: Derrick Hinman
Editors: Kayla Pagliarini, Craig McKay
Costume designer: Kerrie Kordowski
Composer: Pinar Toprak
Not rated, 89 min.
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