It’s not much of a surprise that American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis co-wrote The Curse Of Downers Grove, dealing, as it does, with the themes of toxic masculinity and extreme aggression and violence. But it would have been surprising that a respectable author like Ellis would allow himself to be associated with a piece of low-budget flotsam like this one—15 years ago, at least. Post-The Canyons, this appears to be Ellis’ new, second-rate normal.
The title makes The Curse Of Downers Grove sound like a supernatural horror movie, which it is not. The “curse” itself is addressed in the opening scenes of the film, and deals with a legend that one member of the graduating class of Downers Grove High School, located in the western suburbs of Chicago, must die before graduation every year. But that thread is lost early on, replaced by a sort of reverse Death Wish scenario where a young woman’s family and friends are targeted for revenge after she injures her would-be rapist at a party.
Bella Heathcote stars as that young woman, Chrissie Swanson, a terminally serious high school senior who, as she explains in clunky expository dialogue, was forced to grow up too fast by the violent outbursts of her meth-addict father. Heathcote is serviceable in her role, as is the rest of the teenage cast, operating in either mumbling “perpetually underwhelmed in the face of mortal danger” mode or Bret Easton Ellis “rage-fueled cokehead” mode. (Tom Arnold, presumably trying to attract shock-value attention à la Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers, falls into the latter category as the villain’s football-obsessed father.)
But the characters’ actions remain incomprehensible, even as they’re explicitly laid out. Heathcote’s character reluctantly attends a party, saying she wants to check it out and then leave, then takes a half-dozen shots as soon as she arrives. A character who summarily dismisses another’s advances in one scene cuddles up to them in the next. Our leads are subjected to systematic, violent attacks by a group of testosterone-soaked football jocks, then decide to invite the whole school over for a house party anyway. And the cops? The cops all seem to have put in their two weeks’ notice a week and a half ago.
The Curse Of Downer’s Grove is very impressed with its own cleverness, which it flaunts with flourishes like the always-distressing omniscient voice-over; dream sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a mid-’90s VH1 rock block; a sentimental slideshow of our leads that, like most of the film’s male characters, is creepily fixated on Heathcote; and a wholly unnecessary minute-and-a-half long post-credits stinger. Like the most popular student at a suburban high school, it thinks it’s something special. But it won’t make it in the big city.