When I saw that this film was based off of a book by Bret Easton Ellis, the same author who wrote American Psycho, I thought I was in for a surprise. I was expecting a disturbing or disgusting film, maybe with an orgy or two. Instead, I was hit with The Curse of Downer’s Grove, a very limited release that was not at all what it was described to be, and I’m not talking about an “M. Night Shyamalan twist” here.
The Curse of Downer’s Grove felt more like an extended episode of Pretty Little Liars rather than a horror film. At Downer Grove High School, there has been a grisly tradition of a senior dying every year days before they graduate. Everyone believes that a curse lays on the high school grounds except Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote), who is skeptical about just about everything. However, when she’s attacked by Chuck, the star quarterback of the football team, (Kevin Zegers), she starts to think that she may be the next victim.
From the characters to the “quirky” soundtrack, The Curse of Downer’s Grove tried too hard to follow in the footsteps of It Follows, the indie horror hit from earlier this year, but without the originality and suspense. The premise sounded fun on paper, and since this story is from the same author who created Patrick Bateman, I thought it could be capable of a cult film title. But now, I’m trying to erase this film from my mind. It was a slow burn all the way through, with no action up until the last ten minutes.
Similar to It Follows, it tried to rally up suspense by having the threat rarely seen or dealt with. It focuses mainly on Chrissy and her personal demons, and that would have been okay if she was the slightest bit interesting. The writers tried to mix up her skepticism of the curse with God and other religious beliefs. The forced symbolism did not work at all, making her personality feel convoluted. And just when I thought her character couldn’t get any worse, the writers decided to do a complete 180 and have her wielding guns like she was Lara Croft. The complete change in character development was almost laughable, but then I realized that the filmmakers were serious about this, and then I started to feel pity.
Usually, I can take a tolerate a bad horror film, but only if there is something that actually makes it scary. Downer’s Grove has no such element. The “curse” is simply used as an engine to move forward. The open scenes even had indications that it might have because the school was built on a Native American burial ground, which sounded way more exciting. Maybe this flop will teach Ellis to leave his work in the hands of experienced screenwriters.