by Nav Qateel
Since 2004, a local curse has seen high school seniors die right before graduation. Skeptic Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) starts having strange dreams, leading her to believe she might be next.
Chrissie and best friend Tracy (Penelope Mitchell) are persuaded to go to a party, where Chrissie is almost raped by local bad boy Chuck (Kevin Zegers). She manages to escape after stabbing him in the eye with her finger. His future career now ruined and constantly high on drugs, Chuck, with his gang on tow, is determined to get some payback.
This is the third film from director Derick Martini, whose first, Lymelife, was well received by critics. His second film Hick, while loaded with a fantastic cast that included Chloë Grace Moretz, Blake Lively and Eddie Redmayne, was this time slated by said critics. I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed Hick, particularly the strong performances by the cast. With The Curse of Downers Grove, Martini once again gets to show his ability of getting the most from his actors, as demonstrated by the lovely Bella Heathcote who takes the lead in this coming-of-age mystery-thriller. Heathcote's steady performance is one of the film's highlights, and watching her nail the part of Chrissie is almost worth the ticket price on its own.
Penelope Mitchell does a good job in her supporting role of best bud Tracy, the object of Chrissie's 15-year-old horny brother David's desire. David is played by Martin Spanjers, a talented actor who can still actually pull off being a young teen, even though he'll be 30 in a couple of years. Lucas Till plays Bobby, a young mechanic and Chrissie's love interest. Till is tailor-made for this type of role, and carries it off expectedly well. The highly experienced Kevin Zegers can do bad convincingly, as he easily demonstrates here. His character, Chuck, is obviously complex, and after Chrissie partially blinds him -- ruining his chances of making it big as a sport's star -- his abusive father stomps on him with his boot, rather than offering him comfort after losing an eye. The father is cameod by Tom Arnold, who has two or three small but memorable scenes. The final character in the ensemble is Chrissie's creepy neighbor Ian, played by Mark L. Young. Ian and Chrissie have been friends since childhood, however, Ian has always had a crush on her but he's never been confidant enough to make a move. After Bobby and Chrissie start dating, Ian starts to spy on the pair every chance he gets.
Having American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis co-write the screenplay with Derick Martini, certainly didn't hurt matters, and will no doubt be a major selling point. The writing in The Curse of Downers Grove is especially good. For example, the way we're given expository dialogue about certain things, like Chrissie's father being a drug addict and how it has effected almost every facet of her life. The writers have also included lots of small details that help keep the story nice and clear, something mystery films aren't always guilty of achieving.
The Curse of Downers Grove is well-paced, tightly edited, and scores well on a technical level. It was also entertaining from beginning to end. The targeted YA audience should find the film more than adequate.