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Back in September, I went on opening night to see SORORITY ROW, a silly remake of a just-as-silly 1980s slasher. I really don’t like slashers in general, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself to the task of reviewing a bunch of slashers, the first round of which were school-based. Several months later, I stopped stalling and actually committed myself to following through on it (hey, I told you I can’t stand slashers). Below is the tenth and final part of this series.
And so here I am, back at the beginning. After nine reviews, I gathered it was time to take a look at the slasher that started it all. SORORITY ROW is in many ways just like those nine other school slashers; it’s got a school, a slasher, and a bunch of young people for the slaughter. It even qualifies as a loosely based remake of one of those films, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. But it’s also got its foot in the new century, with cell phones and cheeky dialogue that comments on the modern age. That foot forward also attempts to distance it from those films, as it claims it’s based on a draft of the script for the original, instead of the original itself. It drops the masked killer from its source, his unresolved identity, and its naive sense of innocence and fun. That last omissions cuts the deepest, as SORORITY ROW turns out to be a snarky, bitchy film where I was hoping a nuke would drop at the film’s conclusion and kill every single character in the film. And hey, that’s rare.
SORORITY ROW establishes its plot and introduces its characters at a party in the sorority house. While girls in pink pajamas bounce on a bed and have a pillow fight, others mark up a girl’s fat pockets with Sharpies. Yes, this party is fully misogynistic fantasy developed by older male writers. As the camera swoops through the party, it’s clear that everyone at this fest is a college douche bag, except the drunken house mother, who probably drinks heavily because she’s a house mother for a bunch of douche bags. Our five main characters meet upstairs, where they toast insults to each other. Lead bad girl Jessica reveals to goody-goody Cassidy that they’ve set up Chugs’ brother to think he killed his ex-girlfriend with roofies. This sets the plot in motion, as the girls and the brother drive the phony corpse out to an abandoned mineshaft to “dispose of the body.” That move leads to the best moment in the movie: thinking that his ex is really dead, and that air in her lungs will float her to the top of the water, the guy drives a tire iron into her chest. While Cassidy wants to tell the police, Jessica convinces the rest that they should cover the murder up, so they don’t ruin their families’ legacies or their own futures. Jessica’s manipulation wins out, and they dump the body down the shaft. When Cassidy threatens to turn them in, including herself, the others say they will blame her for murder.
Let’s pause and reflect on this. The movie sets up Jessica to be our main baddie, as she hides behind the sorority code of “Trust, Honor, Respect, Solidarity, Secrecy,” twisting the others by invoking their families and futures. But let’s face facts: all these characters are scumbags. Though Cassidy rightly objects to hiding the murder, she makes the pact with the rest of them, and abides by it. This actually makes her the worst character morally, because unlike Jessica, who has no qualms doing so, Cassidy believes she’s doing wrong and does it anyway. But each is equally complicit; they caused a death, and take no responsibility for it. So it’s impossible for me to sympathize with any of them. And when a movie doesn’t have sympathetic leads, it fails on all cylinders.
It doesn’t help that most of these characters are bitches, as several of them constantly make note of in the dialogue. They’re sarcastic, caustic and outright rude. The film’s dialogue is supposed to be hip (as if tossing out a Facebook comment makes this movie so current), but it comes out as ridiculous and phony; it certainly doesn’t make any of the characters likable. When it becomes clear that someone has discovered their secret and has decided to kill them, it’s a relief, if only because death should shut them up. The killer also murders several students unrelated to the crime, just because they’re douche bags too, I’m sure. As if there aren’t enough of them in the film, the script also introduces us in the second act to the dead girl’s little sister, who’s less concerned with mourning than pledging the sorority and bedding down Jessica’s boyfriend. This film has such a terrible view of college kids, that it made me wonder what kind of post-high school education its writers had.
As the girls head toward their last school party, the film leads us to its inevitable conclusion, where, after one ridiculously out of place twist with a minor character, the killer reveals himself before the final battle. The explanation for why he’s murdering everyone is a crock, as is the suggestion at one point that the girl who took a tire iron in the heart and was thrown 50 feet down a well may be the killer. Just how gullible are the girls of Theta Pi?
The script isn’t the film’s only sin, though. I’d like to suggest to director Stewart Hendler that he buy a tripod and invest in a focus puller on his next film. So many shots are out of focus as the camera shakes in all directions. I surmise that he was trying to slick and imitate the amateur approach many of the slasher flicks suffered from back in their heyday, but it comes off as if Hendler doesn’t know how to shoot a film. And though most of those films were made on ultralow budgets, they were shot competently.
And then there’s the casting. When the daughters of B.J. McKay and John McClane are among your leads, I wonder if you’re hiring them just because of their fathers. Briana Evigan does a decent job holding down a thankless role, which involves her crying a lot and whining. Rumer Willis, on the other hand, is unlikely to have the same career track as Bruce, if this film’s any indication (though, if you put a red wig on dad, you’ve got the daughter). Give her credit, though, she can scream. Leah Pipes is the most entertaining actor of the bunch; she understands how much bitchiness the role requires, and she delivers. The rest are just kind of there. God knows why, but this movie recycles Julian Morris from another modern slasher, CRY WOLF. And then there’s Carrie Fisher as the foul-mouthed alcoholic house mother with the shotgun. When Fisher has come so far from Princess Leia that she’s camping it up in bad slashers, it’s time to pack it up. I gather audiences loved the comic relief (they laughed hysterically at her lines when I saw this in theatres), but I found it sad.
Though there are a number of them, I found the disc’s special features sad too, but then I didn’t dig the film, so keep that in mind. There’s “Sorority Secrets: Stories from the Set,” a fluff piece in which the actresses introduce themselves as their characters, before speaking as themselves. Their stories involve everybody loving everybody else, and everyone being great at everything. “Killer 101” involves Hendler explaining how this flick follows the rules of the subgenre (though he doesn’t mention how poorly it does so) and co-writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger proving what creepy misogynists they are. “Kill Switch” acts as a jump-to-a-kill, if you want to avoid all the dialogue; a more merciful feature never existed on any DVD. The deleted scenes are scant and short, and you’re not missing anything if you skip them. Same goes for the outtakes. I’m surprised there’s no commentary with Hendler and his writers, but then, this film doesn’t really merit one.
SORORITY ROW wants to be an 80s slasher, but at the same time it wants to distance itself from the films that made the subgenre. If Hendler or the writers had had any appreciation, or even understanding, of the school based slashers of old, this could have been a fun flick in that vein. Instead, it amounts to a whole lot of sound and fury and bitching. Lots and lots of bitching.
–Phil Fasso
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