No longer the enfant terrible who skewered high society and the drug-addled youth who occupied it, Bret Easton Ellis is now content doing hack jobs on the vaguely pornographic “The Canyons” and his most recent effort the pseudo-supernatural thriller “The Curse of Downers Grove”. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad that the author of “Less than Zero”, “American Psycho”, and “The Rules of Attraction”, all adapted into pretty good features, would occupy his time with such a contrived, paint-by-numbers teen horror. But at least he and director Derek Martini (“Lymelife”) got the title right, because this film is a definite downer if there ever was one.
Bella Heathcote, so bad in “Dark Shadows” yet so passionate in “Not Fade Away”, is back to porcelain stiffness this time, portraying high school senior Chrissy Swanson. A big fish in the small pond of Downers Grove, Illinois, Chrissy ponders, with some seriously heavy-handed narration, whether her town is cursed. It sure seems like it, because every year on the eve of graduation a high school senior has died. Sometimes it’s illness, sometimes it’s murder, or sometimes one climbs a water tower and falls to his doom. This curse is an equal opportunity killer. But why is the town cursed, anyway? Maybe, as Chrissy wonders, it’s because the lily-white townsfolk stole the land from Native Americans hundreds of years of ago? Her nightmares suggest that’s the case. Or maybe it’s just dumb, stupid bad luck for bored small-town kids? “The suburbs are the ghettos of the meaningless”, she posits. Yeah, whatever. Thanks for that, Mr. Ellis.
That’s about as deep the analysis of suburban America goes for this cookie cutter thriller, that sees a bunch of weird crap goin’ down as Chrissy nears graduation. It all starts when, naturally, her mother (Helen Slater, far from the Supergirl days) leaves town with her new boyfriend. Left on their own, Chrissy, her younger brother Dave (Martin Spanjers), and frisky best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell) don’t waste time getting into trouble. Convinced to go to a sketchy party with some random jocks, Chrissy is nearly raped by Chuck (Kevin Zegers), a ‘roid raged varsity quarterback. To get away she’s forced to gouge his eye out, ending his football career and royally pissing off his father (Tom Arnold), who was pressuring him to go pro. Rather than getting his eye looked at, Chuck goes all American psycho and begins stalking Chrissy and everyone she loves.
So what’s up with that curse, though? What does any of this have to do with it? That’s a good question, but the actual curse is left off the table except for the nightmares racing through Chrissy’s head. Instead what we get is something that resembles a much-lamer version of “Fear”, that stalker flick from the ’90s with Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon. When not snorting coke and shooting up steroids, Chuck pummels his way through Chrissy’s brother, slaughters animals in her yard, and befuddles the cops who refuse to arrest him. Not even her hunky and mellow mechanic boyfriend, Bobby (played by Lucas Till) can stop what’s happening. He’s too busy dropping clichéd drivel like, “What’s a girl like you want with a grease monkey like me”? Yeah, he actually asks her that. What is this? Sweet Valley High? If Ellis and Martini, who co-wrote this terrible screenplay together, were satirizing the genre that’d be one thing, but “The Curse of Downers Grove” isn’t smart enough for that. And as for that curse? It’s on anyone who tries to endure this mess. However it’s also on Ellis, who is so much better than this that he must have been miserable the entire time.