The Curse of Downers Grove full movie review - A hopelessly incompetent and irrelevant horror film
I've lived less than five minutes away from the town of Downers Grove, Illinois my entire life, even going to high school there and finding myself going there for one thing or another on an almost daily basis.
It's a remarkably unremarkable town, but it's one with everything one could need - a grocery store, a library, several parks, roomy middle-class housing, great schools, and low crime. It's the perfect setting for a horror film for the very fact that there's little that happens there and you'd be hard-pressed to hear the terms "breaking news" and "Downers Grove" in the same sentence.
This is ostensibly why The Curse of Downers Grove has created such a buzz in my community over the last few weeks, with news of its release spreading through the neighborhood like wildfire. However, I was usually the one to crush the hopes of local residents and friends by telling them that the film, in fact, isn't shot in Downers Grove, or anywhere in Illinois for that matter, but in California, in a town that is so valley-centric and coastal that it doesn't even mirror the sleepy, middle- class roots of Downers Grove. Right off the bat, that voids a lot of the film's credibility; why even use a specific location for a story and not even shoot the film in that location?
Turns out, the film is based off of Downers Grove, a teen novel by Michael Hornburg, who grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois and attended Downers Grove South High School, claiming to have seen numerous classmates die from strange occurrences over his years. In present day, I haven't heard anything about "the curse of Downers Grove," which leads me to believe, unlike high-profile Illinois curses depicted in films like Munger Road, this "curse" was simply something Hornburg could use as the basis for a novel set in his hometown. We haven't started talking about the film, and already, it seems to be bask in its own irrelevance.
The Curse of Downers Grove, indeed, is a bad film, for more reasons than its false setting and entirely fictitious curse, which could apply to any town anywhere in the United States or the world. It's a film so hokey and ugly, without a shred of an idea of what it's supposed to do as a film, that rather than function as a horror film, or even a competent thriller, it settles for middle-of-the-road, soap- opera production and comes off like a dark Lifetime murder mystery.
"The Curse of Downers Grove" is the justification for strange occurrences that always plague the graduating classes of Downers Grove High School (a school which doesn't exist in real life, mind you), where a member from the graduating class dies every year in some freak accident. With that, we focus on Chrissie (Bella Heathcoate), who believes the curse is a big hoax. When her mother (Helen Slater) goes out of town, however, she is left in charge of her younger brother (Martin Spanjers) and to her own devices. She decides to go to a party with her best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell), where she subsequently winds up being cornered by the star football player Chuck (Kevin Zegers) and nearly raped before she can fight back and poke Chuck's eye literally out.
Now, Chuck's future as a football player is ruined and his entire existence shamed by his abusive father (Tom Arnold, who does some strong work at being menacing and downright vicious). Chuck is out for revenge against Chrissie, and because his father is a former cop, he's practically untouchable. He resorts to vandalism and taunting her, and she resorts to seeking comfort in the well-meaning but offbeat neighbor-boy Bobby (Lucas Till), all while trying to get Chuck and his football goons to leave her and her friends alone on the week of graduation, when "the curse" usually strikes.
The first problem is editor Kayla Pagliarini seems to have so little confidence in the audience that she resorts to spelling out who to keep an eye on during the film and who appears unsettling through glossy and unwarranted editing tricks, particularly on one character, which just about ruins any credible mystery the film had. In addition, director Derick Martini and writer Bret Easton Ellis can't seem to figure out how they want to position this story. At first, with the commentary about the curse and its effect on people, it seems as if this film will be another Final Destination-esque teen thriller. It isn't until the film gets going, however, that you see it has little to do with the actual curse of the town, but with this side-story of Chrissie angering the football star and getting put in danger because of it.
Martini and Ellis have no clue on how they want to tackle this story, be it through paranormalities, teen drama, mystery, or what-have-you, so the result is a film that's dreary and unfocused. The Curse of Downers Grove is about as limp and fickle as a horror film can be, as its plot moves along at a miserably slow pace, despite only being seventy-eight minutes long, and its characters are largely faceless.
Absent of all tension, void of any compelling characters, loaded with undeveloped red herrings, and terribly misguided in its plot, The Curse of Downers Grove's only hope for long-term impact is the fact that it features the name of a close-knit Illinois town. However, because it wasn't even shot in said town, and formulates no connection to the roads, the landmarks, the people, or the foundation of Downers Grove, that part also has a very slim chance of making this out to be anything other than a seriously lame, irrelevant teen thriller.
Starring: Bella Heathcote, Penelope Mitchell, Lucas Till, Kevin Zegers, Martin Spanjers, Helen Slater, and Tom Arnold. Directed by: Derick Martini.