If you get the chance to watch Sorority Row in a sparse theater populated by backward baseball cap-wearing frat boys and college girls whispering about what they threw up for lunch, jump at it.
Sarcasm aside, the movie itself is actually damned entertaining. I attribute this mostly to the fact that it’s the most accurately advertised movie of the year, and it delivers on all of the underwear-clad, gorgeous young women either being brutally killed or fighting back in a blaze of glory. On top of that, it exceeds expectations elsewhere, doesn’t take itself seriously, and turns out to be one of the most fun horror flicks I’ve seen in a while.
The inner circle of Theta Pi sisters perpetrate a prank that leaves one of their best friends dead. Instead of going to cops and risking orange jumpsuits for manslaughter, they choose the far superior solution of dumping her body down a convenient mineshaft. This turns out to be a bad call when some of the girls start to lose it mental-wise and a hooded killer begins stalking them sporting the same tire iron that killed their erstwhile sorority sis.
The movie opens with a slow establishing shot of the house, and as the camera enters, a party is in full swing complete with bare-butt co-eds jumping on a trampoline amidst an orgy of drinking and making out. This might as well be the calling card for the entire film. It doesn’t quite treat college with the Bret East Ellis sensibility of constant date rape and drug abuse, but it doesn’t skimp on the sex and alcohol. Think of it as Ellis if he’d actually had a good time in college or Ellis with cherry flavored lip gloss on.
The characters are introduced fairly quickly. In fact, the entire first act happens before you can tell the guy-who-thinks-he’s-funny-but-is-only-saying-exactly-what’s-happening-on-screen behind you to be quiet. The filmmakers wasted no time in tossing the girls into their drama and a body down a mineshaft. Plus, the girls that are involved are all fairly rounded. Despite being built on cliches, they never play out that way. They play, for the most part, like normal human beings (or as close as sorority girls can come to being human). Shockingly, this only serves to show just how bad Audrina Patridge is at acting – which made me glad that she was a catalyst instead of a character.
Cassidy (Briana Evigan) is the level-headed one with a decent heart and a valedictorian boyfriend (played by Julian Morris). Jessica (Leah Pipes) is the bitchy queen bee who is completely unburdened by ethics. Ellie (Rumer Willis) is the slightly nerdy one. Claire (Jamie Chung) is the sidekick attempting to reach top dog status by tagging along with Jessica. Chugs (Margo Harshman) is the drunken, foul-mouthed slut. Megan (Audrina Patridge) is a corpse.
Although I can break down the characters to one-liners, they aren’t exactly accurate to be fair because the dialog and acting rounds them out pretty nicely. It’s believable that all these girls are close friends, but their personality conflicts are also natural, stemming from those differences in what they see as right and wrong (or in Jessica’s case, what’s necessary to get ahead). That extra effort was definitely refreshing, and it shows through in the story as well.
The place this most shows through is during the conversation of what to do with their accidentally-stabbed friend’s body. A cheesier film would have had a quick conversation about making a pact and everyone agreeing that they don’t want to get into trouble (I’m looking at you I Know What You Did Last Summer), but this movie delivers a fairly complex discussion that gives the otherwise absurd situation the weight it deserves. One girl knows the right thing but isn’t strong enough to do it. One girl is hellbent on saving her own ass by convincing the others to save their own. One girl is determined to tell the police and storms off to do so. It sets up some odd alliances, and it’s fun watching those alliances either hold strong or break down throughout the rest of the movie.
The plot plays out just barely above predictable, but that’s not really the point. The point is that the kills are really fun (a few even inventive), the girls are interesting to watch, and the college-age slasher sex and nudity is given its due. In those ways Sorority Row delivers.
There are at least seven deaths, and although some of them are quick and dirty, the movie does play around with a wine bottle and a flare gun in some smile-inducing ways. Some of the atmosphere is poorly achieved – girls walking alone somewhere asking if anybody’s there isn’t exactly new or effective at building tension in the first place, but it’s largely easy to overlook. Especially considering that a couple of the kill scenes do create some genuine tension or at least place the victim in an utterly vulnerable position – what could feel more unprotected than being huddled in the cold corner of the shower stall completely naked? Here, it’s not done for shock value. It’s done to make the girl even more terrified. Face it, if you’re gonna go, you at least want to fight (or run) with your clothes on.
So the film definitely has some problems. Most frustratingly is the large amount of great dialog. There’s so much of it that it is mindboggling when bad lines pop up every few minutes. Either the screenwriter had some lapses in judgment and couldn’t keep the tone going, or the director decided on set that they needed to add lines. Most of the film is populated by fairly decent discussions and killer one-liners from ultimately bitchy people, but then there are a dozen cringe-worthy moments that make you wonder if the douchebag sitting behind you in the theater helped write some of the script.
Luckily, the film doesn’t take itself seriously enough for any of that to matter. It’s not campy, and it’s not parody, but it also realizes it’s not high art. Leah Pipes is a stand out as Jessica – even when they see Megan’s rotted corpse for the first time in months she manages to blurt out nonchalantly that Megan’s not looking hot. She’s a consummate bitch, and right up there on my personal list of best bitches. She has no ethics, is self-centric, and has the quick wit to cut someone to the core out of the blue. Genius. Margo Harshman is also a standout in a similar way – while not a complete bitch, she delivers some fantastic lines that would make sailors blush and plays her part incredibly well. Come to think of it, Rumer Willis does well for the emotional mess that her character is, Jamie Chung doesn’t have much to work with but does well, and Briana Evigan looks and acts a lot like Rashida Jones’s little sister who started smoking at 13. That’s not a bad thing. She’s sweet and funny but clearly haunted by what she and her friends have done. Not in a soap opera way, but in the way someone would most likely react in an intractable situation.
But even with some decent performances, Carrie Fisher with a shotgun owns the screen.
So, yes, Sorority Row is bad fun. It’s a solid horror film that’s not all that scary but delivers on creativity with a blade, some totally beautiful young women (who can act! (which I think is the real twist of the movie)), and a tone that belies that director Stewart Hendler gets that he was making a slasher flick in a sorority house and not Hamlet.
The Upside: Harmless fun; inventive kills; girls who find no harm in walking around in the underwear
The Downside: A few terrible lines and Audrina Patridge
On the Side: Summit was really close to making the film be PG-13, which would have sucked. Luckily, they came to their senses and allowed it to be bloody R-rated.