17 January 2010

Movie Review: Sorority Row


Sorority Row
2009, 101mins, R
Director: Stuart Hendler
Writer (s): Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger, Mark Rosman (original screenplay)
Cast includes: Briana Evigan, Jamie Chung, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Audrina Patridge, Julian Morris, Carrie Fisher
Release Date: 11th September 2009

“Sorority Row” is better than I expected. Such a confession deserves to be placed at the front of any review as does my admittance that my expectations were hanging somewhere in the region of rock bottom for this one. The film actually manages a few darkly humorous moments, at least one good performance and a modestly intriguing middle act, something of a revelation given the dross I was anticipating. Directed by the largely unexposed Stuart Hendler and written by “Good Luck Chuck” scribe Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger the film is better than it has any right to be. That said, It’s hard to say I recommend “Sorority Row”, the film after all is no better than average. Those who decide to chuck a copy of the film into their home entertainment devices might be surprised by how watchable the picture is in fits and bursts, but overall “Sorority Row” is an inherently ordinary slasher experience.

The sisters of the Theta Pi sorority decide to play a prank on one of their philandering boyfriends on the night of a blazing party They convince his frustrated girlfriend Megan (Audrina Patridge) to feign death at his hands and thus through him into an uncontrollable state of panic. However the joke turns sour when during a fit of guilt and desperation the girl’s accidently convince the traumatised sleaze to begin dismembering the body, leaving them with a real corpse on their hands. Despite the protestations of Cassidy (Briana Evigan) the group decide to hide the body and never speak of it again, devising a story that leaves Megan as a lost soul forever disappeared from the people that love her. However 8 months later as the girls prepare to graduate they receive odd text messages that suggest someone else knows about their murderous past, and quickly these veiled threats turn into a spate of horrific murders as the sisters are picked off one by one.

“Sorority Row” is a technically well constructed motion picture, the cinematography is great, Hendler conducts a few surprisingly ambitious camera tricks and the editing is rapid in a fashion that isn’t totally repellent. Certainly the filmmakers on this venture appear to be a group that given stronger material might be able to make some sort of visual imprint on popular cinema, it would be interesting to see how Hendler copes with a more impressive scale and intelligent script in the future. However whilst he’s created a more palatable horror effort than I pre-empted there are still too many flaws in “Sorority Row” for me to give him a passing grade on his feature length debut. “Sorority Row” is by turns occasionally quite funny but it’s a gratingly familiar stalk and slash production, the kills are bland and genuine suspense only makes intermittent appearances.

The characters are all one dimensional but some of the actresses channel much more entertainment value from their paper thin personas than others. Leah Pipes who plays the groups resident bitch Jessica is brilliant, she really succeeds in creating a character that audiences will truly love to hate. When Pipes is featured the picture seems more colourful and certainly more assured from a comedic standpoint, it’s a vibrant and delightfully ugly performance that actually kicks “Sorority Row” up a notch in several vital places. The other girls are far less inventive with their parts and border on dull, Evigan is the closest to a heroine we get and is probably given the most interesting character, but the actress doesn’t seem bothered about doing much interesting with the material. Jamie Chung is a weak actress selected purely because she has a pretty face and looks good in a bikini whilst Margo Harshman is broad (rarely funny) comic relief. Rumer Willis shows good lungs as a geeky screen queen and is probably the most sympathetic sorority member, but at the end of the day she just feels like meat in the room. Everyone else is either included simply to be carved up, act as a plot device or because they look good when naked, though it’s always nice to see Carrie Fisher, here playing the feisty sorority mother for Theta Pi.

Hendler forecasts his kills a little too bluntly and whilst the middle section boasts a watchable mystery element, this dissipates due to a finish that boasts one red herring too many. I had a fundamental problem with the killer’s identity in “Sorority Row” after the writers do away with a few logical candidates they reveal the blade wielding maniac to be the last person you’d expect. This would normally be a cause for celebration but the problem here is the reasoning behind the murders becomes weak and the narrative explanation even more frustrating. It’s as if Stolberg and Goldfinger wanted to unleash such an unexpected twist that they picked their killer out of a hat as their screenplay neared completion because the identity is shockingly senseless. The structure of the movie and the murder scenes themselves are vanilla, there’s gore and MacGuffins a plenty but the whole enterprise feels welded from a very generic template.

I’m definitely willing to provide the movie props for its cold hearted yet amusing sense of humour, but as a horror picture I’ve got plenty of reservations. It doesn’t attempt anything particularly new or even fresh when it comes to chills and this is an unforgivable annoyance. I wouldn’t go as far to call the film a puffed up bore but it’s certainly forgettable. I suppose it’s only fair to acknowledge the movie is (surprise surprise) a loose remake. I can’t really compare it to its 1983 predecessor “The House on Sorority Row” as I’ve never seen the older venture, but I’m assured by peers and friends that the movies are modestly different, certainly the term shot for shot is reputedly completely inappropriate. It’s important to reiterate the fact that I found “Sorority Row” more bearable than I suspected but be wary that doesn’t mean it’s a brilliant or even particularly good film. Comfortably average is where the narrative mostly aims and disappointingly that’s exactly where the project is content to sit.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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