SORORITY ROW Review. [Manicured Slasher Fun]

Posted by Peter Hall - September 11th 2009 @ 9:59 am

Directed by Stewart Hendler, 2009
Written by Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger


One could criticize SORORITY ROW for having mostly unlikeable characters, an aesthetic sense ripped from an American Eagle catalog and dialog lifted wholesale from a wall-to-wall conversation on a freshman’s Facebook page, but one shouldn’t.  Go see SORORITY ROW on opening weekend in a college town with a college crowd and you will be reminded with great velocity that the only fictional element of its screenplay is a hooded killer who slaughters the sisters of a sorority house.  Everything else about the culture of artificial people it so gleefully slays, vapid it and they may be, is ruefully realistic.  And though I’d have a hard time calling SORORITY ROW expert filmmaking with a straight face, seeing a swath of useless advertisements for trends get dispatched by a tire iron with knives on it is one of the more entertaining times I’ve had a theater this year.

SORORITY ROW is a throwback to a time (cough, the ’90s) when slasher films were absurd enough to be joked around with, but serious enough to only illicit laughs at all the right times.  There’s none of Rob Zombie’s fetishism for brooding characters and running-mascara set design.  There’s none of HATCHET’s nyuck-nyuck-schtick and over-the-top gore.  None of PROM NIGHT’s self-serious attempts to ignore the fact that it eats at the kiddie table.  No toleration for the current state of the genre’s fetish for tortuously prolonging the pain.  Nope, Stewart Hendler’s SORORITY ROW is exactly what it intends to be: an in-and-out 101 minutes of earned laughs punctuated by slick kills.

The main girls of Theta Pi are young, dumb, and full of comeuppance.  They represent all walks of a typical studio script: Megan the MacGuffin (Audrina Partride), Ellie the Geek (Rumer Willis), Chugs the Uberslut (Margo Harshman), Claire the Multicultural Factor (Jamie Chung), Jessica the Bitch (Leah Pipes), and Cassidy the Normal Girl (Briana Evigan).  And if there is any singular compliment to be paid to Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger’s script, it is that I actually remembered each and every one of their names.  Typical cast they may be, they’re all memorable over the course of the film and there’s no confusing one from the other, as is often the case with teen-targeted slashers these days.  The film opens with these gals’ decision to play a prank on the cheating boyfriend of one of their sisters.  It all goes implausibly wrong and Megan the MacGuffin finds herself at the bottom of a mine shift and our Theta Pi’s find themselves with a dark secret to keep.

An otherwise perfect graduation day later and the shit hits the fan when an I Know What You Did Eight Months Ago text pops up on the phones of all involved.  Who is sending it?  Is it Chugs’ little brother, Garret, getting revenge for the Theta Pi prank?  Is the MacGuffin still alive?  Does someone else know?  You’ll have to tune in to find out.  No, seriously, you will, because I honestly had no idea who was donning the Greek robes and shoving bottles down people’s throats when not throwing a pimped out tire iron with America’s Got Talent-like accuracy into people’s throats.  Sure, there are suspiscions, but it is not immediately sealed who has it in for the girls.

Again, kudos to Stolberg and Goldfinger’s script (itself a remake of Mark Rosman’s script for the original THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) for juggling who it could be and why, but further kudos for making me care who gets it and when.  I may not want to be friends with anyone in this movie in real life, but director Hendler does a good job of drawing minimal, at the very least, attachment to each one of his well-cast victims.  And once their fates are sealed, SORORITY ROW is at its best.  The kills may not be uniformly inventive, but they’re rarely dull and even a few of them are bound to find their way onto inevitable future lists of sweet kills in modern horror.

The only major problem I have with SORORITY ROW is that it’s shot like an episode of “THE HILLS” and lit like a commercial for Kay Jewelers.  I prefer this very basic aesthetic to the grunge of, say, a SAW entry or the crushed lighting of a Marcus Nispel film, but it’s still stylistically uninspired.  Almost all of the dialog is shot with a floating, over-the-shoulder close-up that exhibits no understanding of the slasher tradition of showing us the stalker’s POV.  On the one hand, it’s refreshing because a smattering of lingering shots from behind bushes and window curtains would slow the otherwise brisk editing.  On the other, it is indicative of the director and screenwriters’ inability (or non-desire, depending on how optimistic you are) to intelligently dissect the tropes that set the precedent for a film like SORORITY ROW to exist in the first place.

Instead, this is a slasher movie that, like its airhead characters, never ponders beyond its means.  Hendler knows he has a solid core cast and knows, for the most part, what to do with them.  Rumer Willis’ Ellie the Geek may exist only to cry and moronically say out loud everything that is happening, but beyond her they all fit their makeup caked shells; particularly so Briana Evigan as the obvious contender for final girl and Leah Pipes as the biggest of bitches there is.  It is a relief to find everyone’s dialog and deaths are always snappy, and, at times, genuinely witty.

Is SORORITY ROW going to redefine what you think of the current state of the slasher genre?  Absolutely not.  Is it going to give you an hour and a half of relatively smooth, Hollywood-grade horror?  Absolutely.  SORORITY ROW doesn’t try to outsmart the audience, rather it plays straight to the base.  Some may call that attitude settling, I call it acknowledging the acceptable.  I’d certainly take the fun slasher spirit of Hendler’s film over the oppresive, beat the screen and the audience to death ideology of other recent studio offerings.

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rss 12 comments
  1. September 11th, 2009 | 10:10 am | #1

    Great review. No way in high-Hell I’m saying this, anyway, despite your conspicuous inclusion of the “nudity” tag (you should tag every review with that, regardless of accuracy).

    Re: the killer. Are you saying you didn’t know who it was initially, or you didn’t find out who it was at any point in the film? Or can you not say that without sorta-kinda spoiling something for others?

  2. September 11th, 2009 | 10:11 am | #2

    Er, seeing*.

  3. September 11th, 2009 | 10:15 am | #3

    Oh, you definitely find out who it is, Chris, but there are enough contenders that it’s not clear-cut until moments before the actual revelation.

    It has also just occurred to me that in addition to failing to actually mention the nudity, I didn’t even mention one of the best parts of the movie: Carrie Fisher.

    I think I need to go edit it later today and at least add her in. (oh, and thanks!)

  4. September 11th, 2009 | 10:30 am | #4

    “It has also just occurred to me that in addition to failing to actually mention the nudity, I didn’t even mention one of the best parts of the movie: Carrie Fisher.”

    This almost makes it sound like Carrie Fisher is responsible for the nudity. Sorry, Princess: you’re thirty years too late.

    “That’s no moon.”

    Et cetera.

  5. D
    September 11th, 2009 | 11:24 am | #5

    One of the best parts of the (sublime) original film was how cleverly it kept the identity of the killer interesting and vague enough for you to never be 100% sure of your best guess. Seems like they’ve changed the storyline to be completely different in this version, so I assume as a result they had to change the identity of the killer?

  6. September 11th, 2009 | 11:30 am | #6

    Correct, D, other than the truncated name and the similar concept, the two films take very different paths.

  7. September 11th, 2009 | 10:38 pm | #7

    I have to say, while this movie doesn’t look very good, it does look like a hell of a lot of fun. It’ll get my seven bucks at a weekend matinee

  8. devon
    September 12th, 2009 | 2:51 pm | #8

    i thought the movie was really good i saw it on opening night and i have to say i was kinda impressed. it actually did get you thinking unlike some horror films where you can just guess who the killer is

  9. Brandon Curtis
    September 14th, 2009 | 1:01 am | #9

    I liked that the slutty girl is named Chugs and I like how getting busted in the nose with the shotgun kind of humbles the bitchy girl but doesn’t noticeably phase her, a perfect example of being young, dumb and full of comeuppance–without all the nasty dying of course. The killer and motive is tenuous at best, maybe noble, too but still really stupid if they ever decide to break up.

    I wasn’t a fan of the movie, but goddamn this was one great review.

  10. September 14th, 2009 | 12:17 pm | #10

    Thanks, Brandon, I appreciate it. I think this is one of my favorite reviews in a long time.

  11. adam charles
    September 14th, 2009 | 1:18 pm | #11

    “…this is one of my favorite reviews in a long time.”

    You’re such a cocky dick, Peter. And, before you respond, yes I am a pussified vag. We should hook up and make babies.

  12. September 14th, 2009 | 1:21 pm | #12

    Silly Adam, babies aren’t for making, they’re for eating.

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