Urban legend has it that, if your college roommate commits suicide, you will then get perfect grades for the rest of the year. Chris and Tim decide to test this theory, throwing their roommate off a cliff and attempting to make it look like suicide. But after their crime, the pair begin to suspect each other and things get really complicated.
Best known as the screenwriter of The Last Supper, Rosen has fashioned a jet-black comedy that, for once, lives up to and surpasses the "acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival" epithet routinely dished out to every non-studio film to reach these shores.
Dead Man's Curve takes its cue from a prime slice of American college mythology - that is, if a student commits suicide, the bereaved roommates will immediately garner a straight-A term average to ease them through the grieving process. Two students, manipulative Tim (Lillard) and sensitive Chris (Vartan), are struggling to reach the requisite grades to guarantee a spot at Harvard. So they select their third roommate, the boorish Rand (Batinkoff), as their ticket to academic excellence: the elaborate plan sees them plant evidence to imply that Rand is suicidal, get him drunk, then throw him off a cliff. After the college counselling process, the pair achieve their perfect grades before cracks begin to appear in their unlikely alliance.
Rosen imbues the clever plotting - Rand's body is never found, Tim begins to move in on Chris' girlfriend Emma (Keri Russell) - with involved twists, augmented by large helpings of dark humour, a spot-on soundtrack featuring the best in miserable music (The Smiths, naturally, plus a sublime use of Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus) and an unnerving, slightly askew visual style that perfectly mirrors the subject matter.
The young cast - eye candy to a man - are uniformly excellent (particularly Lillard, who plays everything with a maniacal glint) and Rosen displays a keen, sardonic eye for the pressures and cliqueiness of US dorm life. While the whole thing may need a credibility check and the twist-in-the-tale endings go one step too far, the whole thing is so sharp, witty and breathlessly cool that such qualms are easily forgotten. Indeed, Rosen seems to be that rare commodity within American low-budget movie circles - a director who keeps the audience in mind, has a cracking story to tell and the requisite skill and intelligence to spin it.
Boasting originality, an easy-going hipness and a disregard for convention, this represents all that's good about the American indie scene.