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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Curse of Downers Grove  (2015)
1 Star
Directed by Derick Martini.
Cast: Bella Heathcote, Kevin Zegers, Lucas Till, Penelope Mitchell, Martin Spanjers, Mark L. Young, Steven Martini, Helen Slater, Tom Arnold.
2015 – 89 minutes
Not Rated: (equivalent of an R for strong brutal violence, and for sexual content, language and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, August 20, 2015.
There is a nugget of a provocative idea at the center of "The Curse of Downers Grove," but it could scarcely be more mishandled by writer-director Derick Martini (2009's "Lymelife") and co-writer Bret Easton Ellis (2013's "The Canyons"). Acclaimed author Ellis, who has seen superb adaptations made of his often exceptional literary works—among them, 1987's "Less Than Zero," 2000's "American Psycho," and 2009's "The Informers"—would have been wise to take his name off this ludicrously overwrought, supernaturally tinged teen melodrama. As it turns out, the lame script is one of the film's biggest hurdles to overcome, an amateur-hour hodgepodge of painfully extraneous voiceover narration and hacky, underdeveloped plot points that add up in the end to one big poof of dust.

For the past eight years, a high-school senior in the Illinois town of Downers Grove has tragically died on the eve of graduation. Is it a coincidental case of really bad luck? Or, could it be the result of a centuries-old curse perpetrated by the angry spirits of Native Americans whose land was taken from them in 1832? In voiceover, Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) ponders with on-the-nose stiltedness, "I can't help wondering if the curse could be real." Uh-huh. When their mom (Helen Slater) heads to Las Vegas with her new boyfriend, Chrissie and 15-year-old brother Dave (Martin Spanjers) are left behind. With graduation nearing, Chrissie is determined to be careful and on her best behavior—an endeavor easier said than done when she is dragged along to a party by best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell) and fends off an attempted rape by poking varsity football jock Chuck's (Kevin Zegers) eye out. Chuck opts to not go to the hospital and instead starts stalking Chrissie and her friends. With the crooked cops no help to her, she fears she may be this year's unlucky graduation victim.

Based on Michael Hornburg's 2001 novel "Downers Grove," "The Curse of Downers Grove" straddles the line between horror film, "...from Hell" thriller, and coming-of-age soap opera. It is not shy about violence—some late scenes where Chrissie has no choice but to take matters into her own hands are positively brutal—but it is shy about having any sense. Bella Heathcote (2015's "The Rewrite") has a unique, unconventional quality about her, but she is done no favors by an inept screenplay that forces her to endlessly babble on and wax (un)philosophical in recurring narration that blatantly tells rather than shows. As Chuck, 30-year-old Kevin Zegers (2013's "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones") has passed the point where he can believably play teenagers; his villainous hothead (who comes equipped with mindless, interchangeable teammate cronies) is despicable, to be sure, but also a slimly drawn caricature with an even more one-note abusive father (Tom Arnold). Director Derick Martini seems to be so pleased with himself that he even goes so far as to end the film on a sappy "happier times" montage, then follows the end credits up with a ridiculously prolonged repeat of a different, more threatening montage for no other reason than to flaunt what he incorrectly perceives to be editorial stylishness. To reach the end of "The Curse of Downers Grove" is to finally find out if the so-called graduation curse is valid or not. Unfortunately, by this point, many viewers will have long stopped caring.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

[Blu-ray Review] Cursed Films (2020)

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