Reviews: The Curse of Downers Grove

Bret Easton Ellis returns with another less than stellar piece of cinematic underachievement.

"Oh. My. God. I. Am. So. Bored."
The Curse of Downers Grove hastily announces itself as a sort of supernatural thriller about a small town cursed by a series of bizarre events leading towards unexplained deaths in teenagers.  Both the title and the premise are misleading with respect to what the film really is, a continued exercise in American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic outlook on relationships and social dynamics.  

The setup is your typical teen thriller concerning high school girl Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) who finds herself stalked by a cokehead football player named Chuck (Kevin Zegers) and his posse of jocks.  Chrissie, through voiceover narration, is about as sure of whether or not the increasing harassment purported by Chuck and his gang is the work of human or inhuman forces as the film itself.  In other words, the film can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be about urban legends or a standard stalker thriller and ultimately only succeeds in one area.  The real question is, will this redeem Bret Easton Ellis from his involvement in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons?

Largely, the answer is yes although I have no idea what the whole thing has to do with curses.  When it’s just about a junkie obsessive who fixates on making Chrissie’s daily life a living Hell, it works really well with far better acting and focus than Schrader’s film.  Bella Heathcote, soon to star in Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon makes Chrissie into a plucky and resourceful heroine who is more concerned for the safety of those around her than her own.  Kevin Zegers is especially effective, making the muscle head antagonist neurotic, irrational and dangerous.  What would a Bret Easton Ellis villain be without a cocaine habit?  Did I mention Tom Arnold cameos as Chuck’s abusive and domineering father?  Was he aiming for Rodney Dangerfield’s dramatic turn in Natural Born Killers?  In any event, for much of The Curse of Downers Grove I was reminded of the collegiate antics of the infinitely better The Rules of Attraction with Ellis’ usual obsessions on display including but not limited to sociopathy, predatory stares, ennui, narcissism, drug addiction and momentary extreme violence.  Loosely based on the novel Downers Grove by Michael Hornburg, it would appear the source material was much closer to a coming of age tale of adolescence before Easton Ellis tipped the story over towards his dejected outlook of over privileged teens. 

"How do I keep ending up in
these movies?"
Watching The Curse of Downers Grove, I found myself caring a great deal about Chrissie’s fear and anxiety over her unwanted stalker and annoyed the film kept inserting notions of the supernatural.  The standard thriller worked perfectly fine and held my attention even when it rushed towards its conclusion and the amount of mischievous vandalism and harassment Chuck gets away with seemed ludicrous at times.  You have to wonder why the film needed all these hyperkinetic subliminal edits suggesting demonic forces were at work.  Why, to better suit the title, which begs the question why call it The Curse of Downers Grove in the first place?  Although Chrissie can’t help but wonder how much of the small town urban legend is playing into her misfortune, it comes off as ultimately irrelevant in the scheme of things.  Yes I feared for Chrissie but not for the reasons the film seemed to suggest.  It was enough she had a creepy stalker proceeding to invade her every waking moment.  Did it really need to try and evoke the supernatural, too?


-Andrew Kotwicki