March 9, 2010

Sorority Row

by Allen Irwin

The following review was first published in the Tufts University Daily on September 18, 2009 (here), it was my first published movie review.

College graduation should be a day that you never forget. The problem for the girls of Theta Pi is that they might not survive it. The latest in the endless run of horror remakes being cranked out by the Hollywood assembly line these days, “Sorority Row” offers up a fun, but ultimately unsatisfying addition to the “slasher” genre.

The film features a cast of largely unknown actresses who try their best to make an impression while running, screaming and delivering witty one-liners. Fortunately for the audience, the sisters’ personalities fall into easily identifiable stereotypes, including queen bee Jessica (Leah Pipes), nice girl Cassidy (Briana Evigan) and nerdy and insecure Ellie (Rumer Willis). However, director Stewart Hendler seems content to leave the character development at that, and the girls never become much more than flat characters reduced to their most basic attributes.

The movie begins with the girls attempting an over-elaborate prank on an ex-boyfriend who has wronged one of them. When the prank goes horribly wrong and one of the sisters is killed, all involved decide that it’s best to hide the body and never speak of it again. Flash forward eight months later: it’s graduation and the girls’ sorority, Theta Pi, is throwing one last party-to-end-all-parties. Trouble starts when people begin disappearing and the girls receive threatening text messages on their phones.What follows is standard horror fare, complete with false scares, subplots that go nowhere and a number of red herrings, each one more implausible than the last.

The girls are slowly killed off one by one, with a few extra casualties thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the plot faces a dilemma: if the girls are killed off too fast, they won’t be able to argue with each other, which would deprive the film of most of its comic relief. On the other hand, if they stay alive, the film begins to drag.

The by-the-numbers approach to each of the murders prevents any of them from being very scary, and the final identity of the killer seems arbitrary given the four or five other suspects who have more believable motives for the killings. By the time the credits run and the seeds of the imminent sequel are planted, there really doesn’t seem to be much of a point to any of it.

Overall, the movie suffers from too many horror clichés and, oddly enough, over plotting. What should be a simple, straightforward horror flick gets bogged down in trying to fool the audience with too many possible killers. Even the style becomes distracting when murder scenes are carried out with a slick choreography, but general conversations are constructed with haphazard handheld camerawork and choppy editing.

This is not to say that “Sorority Row” has no redeeming factors. Despite the lack of character development, most of the girls are well cast and seem to have fun with the script, which gives them plenty of “Mean Girls”-esque insults to hurl at each other. Carrie Fisher also has an amusing role as the no-nonsense house mother who goes after the killer with a shotgun.
Horror fans will also enjoy the variety of the kills in the movie, which range from your traditional stabbings to a more gruesome death involving a bottle. They are well done, for the most part, and thankfully don’t get too caught up in an overabundance of gore like other recent horror movies.

In the end, “Sorority Row” is a standard thriller with a pretense that should be more fun than it turns out to be. While it’s lively cast and inventive murders provide a decent amount of fun, the movie really doesn’t have anything to distinguish it from any other horror film that might be showing at the local theater.

Rating: **

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