Theatrical Review: SORORITY ROW
Writers: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger, Mark Rosman (original screenplay)
Director: Stewart Hendler
Cast: Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Leah Pipes, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Though a remake of a horror film set in a sorority house might not be a genre gamechanger, Stewart Hendler’s update on 1983’s THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW does offer some thrills and (intentional) giggles. SORORITY ROW has a pretty standard set-up. Sorority girls pull a prank that goes horribly wrong. The planned prank is already cruel on its own, and is “justified” in the name of sisterhood. That sisterhood bent is what gets twisted in the aftermath of the prank, as a sorority sister dies and the girls culpable for her death attempt to cover it up to save the sorority (and, of course, themselves). Predictably, you can’t just kill someone and get away with it, and SORORITY ROW follows the five guilty sisters as they’re stalked by an unknown killer, set on avenging the death.
The best part about SORORITY ROW is that it’s bitingly funny without verging into satire or spoof. These aren’t SCREAM style laughs, they’re closer to MEAN GIRLS or JAWBREAKER. The bulk of the laughs come from sorority princess Jessica (Leah Pipes) and resident alcoholic Chugs (Margo Harshman). Do yourself a favor, pay attention every time Chugs is on screen, you won’t regret it. Jessica is a mean girl with a goal; she’s completely eyes on the prize and will run over anyone and everyone who gets in her way (I am being literal with this observation). She’s got some punchy lines that get even better when paired with a dry delivery (her observation about imminent destruction to their sorority house could have been a throwaway line, but she makes it an instant classic).
As for the rest of the girls, Briana Evigan’s Cassidy is set as the moral center of the film, but that doesn’t mean she always makes the right choices. She does, however, make the choices you’d expect from a sorority chick with a more level head than her sisters. It’s easy enough to understand why she does what she does, which is a nod to both Evigan’s acting and Stolberg and Goldfinger’s writing. Rumer Willis spends the film screaming and crying. Someone has to. Jamie Chung’s Claire is Jessica’s right hand girl, a toned-down sass mouth who just might be growing up. The five girls form a loose group, complete with requisite stereotypes, tinkered with from scene to scene to remain, at the very least, sufficiently believable.
The typical slasher kills don’t cut it in the horror game anymore, and it’s become commonplace to judge a horror flick on the inventiveness of its kills – not just the scares delivered in anticipation of them. SORORITY ROW makes good use of prosthetics to deliver some wicked kills. They are not particularly shocking, but they are often pretty thrilling. As a whole, SORORITY ROW does pack in some good scares. Our killer frequently channels Freddy Krueger, dragging the tricked-out murder weapon along walls, creating a Pavlovian response in the audience – strong aversion to metal scraping. Simple, but effective.
As a director, Stewart Hendler does not necessarily make bold choices with SORORITY ROW, but he does make some fun ones. The opening scene is digitally stitched together to approximate one long Steadicam shot, but said stitching allows different types of focus and speed, giving the sequence some inventive body. Unfortunately, Hendler spends the first half of the movie trying to shake traditional horror film boundaries in terms of the cinematography. It’s a bit grating, with little stylistic payoff. Eventually, Hendler lets go and gives the film back over to the expected constraints, and the film can continue without that added distraction.
But the major flaw with SORORITY ROW is a terrible one to have in a horror film – the twist, the killer reveal, the explanation for all the mayhem. It’s flat, and it’s confusing, and it’s weak. Strangely enough, moments before we discover who our killer is, another character all but ambles on to screen and seems poised to claim the killer title. It’s all so muddled that it’s almost worth wondering if this is actually a two killer situation. I say “almost worth” because, frankly, it’s not worth the time you’d spend pondering it. When we do get our real killer, it’s a head-scratcher. The motives they name seem almost like a cop-out, the horror film version of “it was all just a dream” – twisty for the sake of being twisty, convoluted to the point of shunning all believable veracity. Like killing a sorority sister and leaving her to rot, it’s an unforgivable sin.