Sorority Row (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2009-09-12 06:35

Written by: Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger (screenplay), Mark Rosman (original screenplay)
Directed by: Stewart Hendler
Starring: Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Leah Pipes, and Carrie Fisher

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"Theta Pi must die..."

In this age of remakes, what's old is definitely new again. If it's not the big names like Myers or Voorhees invading theaters, it's their counterparts from smaller, lesser-known knock-offs like Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine. Next up on the slashing block is another time-tested horror trope: the sorority themed splatter movie. Boasting such fan favorites as Hell Night and the Sorority House Massacre series, this particular sub-genre has resurfaced in the form of Sorority Row. Inspired by 1983's The House on Sorority Row, the film continues the recent resurgence of slasher films back into the popular fold because if there's one thing that will continue to sell at the box office, it's the promise of gory, horrific demises of teens and young adults.

The sisters of Theta Pi are kicking off their senior year with an annual sorority bash full of time-worn traditions like booze, drugs, and sex. College being what it is, there's also a room for a prank against an unsuspecting guy who cheated on one of the sisters of Theta Pi. As retribution for his transgression, the sisters lead him to believe his ex-girlfriend, Megan, dies as a result of the roofies he slipped into her drink. The prank goes horribly wrong when the guy in question stabs Megan in an attempt to dismember her supposedly dead body with a tire iron. The group then makes a pact to dump the body in a well and never reveal the events of the fateful night. However, eight months later, graduation day is interrupted when a psychopath with knowledge of their deadly secret begins killing off everyone involved. Is it Megan returned from the grave to exact vengeance, or is it just another bad sorority prank?

First things first: this is not your father's (or older sibling's) House on Sorority Row. Despite the fact that original writer/director Mark Rosman gets a screenplay credit, there's very little resemblance between this film and the original outside of the "sorority prank gone wrong" aspect. There are some nice nods to the original film for hardcore fans, but, for the most part, this is a completely different film. As such, there's also another thing that must be said right here: though it's a slasher, it doesn't feel like an 80s movie, which is to be expected. As much as it might hurt to admit, that glorious slasher-filled decade ended nearly twenty years ago, so there's no way Sorority Row can capture the sort of charm of its predecessors. It's every bit as sleek and polished as you'd expect a Hollywood production to be, which means it's full of all the same cliches of earlier films, only glossier.

This also means that Sorority Row is pretty much a by-the-numbers slasher with few surprises. Though the eventual reveal of the killer comes a bit out of left field (a move that's also pretty much in the vein of so many 80s slashers), the other events of the film unfold exactly as you'd expect. There are few surprises in this particular sorority house, particularly the cliched characters, most of which are overly obnoxious even for a movie such as this. Most of hte girls here aren't just catty: they turn bitchiness into an art form, particularly Jessica (Leah Pipes), the mastermind behind the murder cover-up. There's also the perpetually drunk slut Chugs (Margo Harshman), the quiet, shy Ellie (Rumer "Yes, She's Bruce's Daughter" Willis), and the good-hearted lead (Briana Evigan). The leads pay their roles about as best as they can be played, but let's face it: most of them are only here to die horrific deaths.

And die horrifically they do. If you've been keeping up here at OTH, you probably know that I'm pretty forgiving towards slasher films as long as they deliver what they're supposed to: gratuitous nudity and gore, and Sorority Row somewhat delivers both. While the nudity is about as gratuitous as it gets (hooray for communal sorority showers), the gore is a bit of a disappointment because there's almost no variety involved. Nearly every death involves the use of a tire iron to the face or throat, and it begins to wear on rather quickly; furthermore, the gore is rarely lingered on as many of the death scenes feature quick cuts that dilute their impact. While there is one memorable scene involving a bottle of booze, there's nothing that quite compares to the ever-memorable severed head in the toilet from the original. While it's nowhere near as bloodless or as tame as the watered down, PG-13 Prom Night redux, it's not exactly a memorable bloodbath either.

This is too bad because the film really has nothing else going for it. Actual scares and suspense are pretty much non-existent, and though director's Stewart Hendler's direction is competent, it's nothing to write home about and is actually sometimes marred by the film's cinematography, which features the tightly-cropped, lingering camera style that's pervaded so many films lately. Aside from this, the film isn't exactly visually unique as it looks like any other sleek, stylish slasher movie from the past ten years or so. If there are any highlights to be found besides the murder sequences, it's definitely seeing Princess Leia herself packing some serious heat as the sorority house mother, Ms. Crenshaw. Carrie Fisher's screen-time pretty much amounts to an extended cameo, which is too bad because she actually brings a screen presence to the film that her younger counterparts lack.

Basically, if you've seen the many other "prank gone wrong" slashers, you've seen Sorority Row. The film certainly brings nothing new to the party, but it does its job decently enough, as the film is paced well by keeping the carnage flowing at all times. Sure, there are some attempts at sub-plots here and there, but really, no one's coming to this one to see these guys and gals do anything except get slaughtered. And they do. As such, I can't knock this one too much because if there's one particular demographic that has the tendency towards being overly annoying and obnoxious, it's frat boys and sorority girls. Sure, most of them probably are decent human beings and don't deserve to die horrible deaths, but Hollywood sure likes to portray them as such. This particular set of kids probably could have used some more time hitting the books because their performance here is pretty mediocre. Its heart is in the right place because it certainly doesn't pretend to be anything other than a ridiculous, cliched slasher movie, but it's not the head of the class. Instead, it's more like that kid that does just enough to get by and gets other students to write their term paper. As such, there's no need to rush and pledge for this sorority; take a dip in its pool and attend one of its annual bashes instead--just make sure not to cross the sisters of Theta Pi. Rent it!

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