An off-beat teen thriller that may turn into a cult classic for its dark edge

Inspired by true events and based on the novel by Michael Hornburg, The Curse of Downers Grove is directed by Derick Martini (Lymelife) and co-written by Martini and author Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction, Less Than Zero). The Curse of Downers Grove never knows exactly what it wants to be, either when it is in teen thriller or spooky Indian curse mode. That actually works to its benefit, becoming a wild ride with a bunch of fun teenage characters. If one can look past a nonsensical Indian curse randomly inserted into the story, expect a dark teen thriller with a likable cast.

Before the end of every school year, a high school senior in the suburb of Downers Grove will die from a gruesome accident. That “curse” has been occurring for nearly a decade and Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) believes she will fall victim this year in the week leading up to graduation. She has suffered from mysterious visions her entire life that predict doom. This is by far the weakest element of the film’s narrative, randomly inserted to remind us of some ancient Indian curse that supposedly afflicts the entire town. It appears to have been added to make sure Downers Grove could be marketed as a horror film, when it really aspires to be a dark teen thriller. Don’t worry too much about it. The movie can be enjoyed without thinking about the ridiculous curse. It does lead to an incomprehensible post-credit scene.

Chrissie and her best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell) get invited by Chuck and his friends to a wild college party. Chuck the local football hero goes crazy on a little blow and then attempts to rape Chrissie. The rest of the movie deals with the ramifications of that night, which spin wildly out of control in unpredictable ways for everyone involved. Chrissie’s younger brother is comedic relief, always hitting on Tracy. There is Bobby (Lucas Till), Chrissie’s new crush that works as an auto mechanic. There is also a creepy teen neighbor that swears he doesn’t harbor feelings for Chrissie. A bunch of small cameos from name actors like Helen Slater and Tom Arnold fill out the diverse cast. The film definitely gets bonus points from me for including Helen Slater.

The teen thriller is like a darker, more violent Lifetime movie which has been made for an R-rating.

Teen movies, even thrillers, live and die by their teenage cast. The Curse of Downers Grove may have plot-holes galore, but the primary teen actors work wonderfully in their roles. Bella Heathcote and Penelope Mitchell make a lively pair of victims-in-waiting as they deal with the curse and normal teen angst. It is much easier tolerating a nonsensical Indian curse in the story with them as stars. The movie does inexplicably veer into Lifetime territory with its twisted romances and odd side plots, though that may be half of its charm.

I am sure many reviewers will destroy The Curse of Downers Grove with its bizarre plot-holes and mixed tone. I am telling you it could become a cult classic with its kinetic pacing and off-beat storytelling. The teen thriller is like a darker, more violent Lifetime movie which has been made for an R-rating. The Curse of Downers Grove is trashy teen fun that is one of the more unpredictable films you will see this year since it follows no known formula. Its genre-bending story is a welcome relief from the mind-numbing thriller formula.

Movie ★★★★☆

Devious eyes @ 7:16

The Curse of Downers Grove arrives in a fine, if unremarkable, video presentation on Blu-ray. The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio on a BD-25. The 88-minute main feature is encoded in AVC at approximately 24 Mbps. Starz/Anchor Bay does a solid job handling the low-budget film.

The video has reasonable definition and sharpness. Some traces of aliasing are evident in the slightly messy production. Hints of sporadic noise and posterization can be spotted in some scenes. For a modern film, facial detail is soft and lacking clarity. Other than a few specific scenes that go monochromatic for artistic effect, the color palette remains neutral with stable black levels.

The video quality is fairly standard for direct-to-video efforts these days on Blu-ray. It lacks the polish of bigger Hollywood productions but has enough clarity that getting the Blu-ray over DVD makes sense.

Video ★★★★☆

The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack includes a robust amount of surround activity and an active LFE presence. The sound design makes an impact in resounding clarity. Directional cues and ambient support make the film a moodier effort than it has any right being. While I didn’t hear anything particularly original coming from the thriller, a tasteful selection of songs hits the right note.

Starz includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles in a white font. The subs remain inside the scope framing at all times of the movie.

Audio ★★★★☆

One of the more bizarre special features I’ve seen on Blu-ray. I can’t tell if this is the first combined featurette/music video in history or not. The movie had a long and tortured development process, having been connected to several different actresses. None of that is covered, sadly.

Behind The Scenes of Downers Grove (04:34 in HD) – Is this a strange kind of music video?! Music plays over clips from the film and brief shots of on-set footage. There is no narration, so the viewer has to imagine some kind of commentary for themselves. It is oddly hypnotic, if strange.

The Drownsman Trailer (01:10 in HD)

Spring Trailer (01:58 in HD)

Extras ★


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.