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.