There Are Worse Things Than Getting Stuck In "Downer's Grove" Review

In the run-down, dead-end town of Downers Grove, Illinois, there are murmurs of a curse that violently takes the life of one high school senior each year just before graduation. Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) is far too level-headed to believe in such nonsense, despite gruesome evidence to the contrary; she herself saw the previous year’s victim fall to his death from a water tower. However, Chrissie chalks it all up to drunk kids making bad life choices. One night at a party, Chrissie is very nearly raped by Chuck, the star quarterback of the local college football Team (Kevin Zegers); she only escapes by jabbing him in the eye. Now partially blinded and unable to play football, Chuck’s only ticket out of Downers Grove has seemingly been burnt to ashes--and he is determined to get revenge on the girl who he blames for his lack of future. Soon, freaky threats and disturbing events start to pile up around Chrissie, to the point that even she begins to wonder if the curse is real--and if she is the next victim.

To my surprise, I found myself enjoying The Curse of Downers Grove far more than I expected to enjoy a teen horror-thriller with Bret Easton Ellis’s name attached; the American Psycho scribe co-wrote the screenplay, which is adapted from the 1999 novel Downers Grove by Michael Hornburg, and also served as executive producer. The main strength of the film lies in its protagonist and the actress who portrays her. As Chrissie, Heathcote is dream-girl-next-door gorgeous but far more than just a pretty face; she is also incredibly likeable and charismatic, and has great, funny chemistry with the actors who play her drum-playing, weed-smoking brother (Martin Spanjers) and her crush, a car mechanic named Bobby (Lucas Till) who looks like a young Chris Hemsworth. One of the most refreshing things about The Curse of Downers Grove is that unlike most horror-film heroines, Chrissie takes no crap from anyone and also makes some relatively smart life choices. This is a girl who flat-out confronts that aforementioned crush about why he has not asked her out, acknowledges that not only is she a virgin, but that she doesn’t plan on changing that any time soon, and--wait for it--actually goes to the police to report her stalker! Not to mention the part where, you know, she jabbed her would-be rapist in the eyeball. Chrissie isn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but that is part of what makes her so realistic; she’s an actual character, as opposed to the cliched caricatures that usually populate these kinds of movies. Because of this, it is easy to root for her and her friends to take down Chuck and his cronies--who, unlike Chrissie and her friends, are a little too cartoonish in their rage to be true. The most over-the-top offender is Tom Arnold, who cameos in a few scenes as Chuck’s abusive dad (because of course); despite spending every minute yelling his head off, he resembles a plank of wood more than a person. 

The Curse of Downers Grove has a lot going for it. However, just as I had been prepared to admit that all of my initial judgments were totally, utterly wrong, the film shocked me with one of the most disappointing endings that I have had the misfortune to watch unfold onscreen. Perhaps the ending only seemed so terrible to me because I had ended up truly enjoying the film over the course of the previous 80 or so minutes, but it felt as though it had been tacked on from another film for the sole purpose of shock value. It’s a shame that everything that Heathcote and company did to make The Curse of Downers Grove halfway decent was erased with one fell swoop of a terrible, no good, very bad plot twist.


The DVD release of The Curse of Downers Grove includes behind the scenes footage from the making of the film.

"The Curse of Downers Grove" is on sale September 1, 2015 and is not rated. Horror, Thriller. Directed by Derick Martini. Written by Bret Easton Ellie, Derick Martini. Starring Bella Heathcote, Kevin Zegers, Lucas Till.

Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 


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