The fact that I saw Stewart Hendler’s Sorority Row just minutes after sitting through Lynch Mob and I still didn’t think it was any damn good strongly suggests that Sorority Row is actually worse than I think. To test this theory, however, I’d have to sit through Sorority Row again. I’m sorry, but there are limits.
The film is a remake of the 1983 slasher flick The House on Sorority Row (saying that it’s “based on the screenplay” for that film doesn’t keep it from being a remake), which I’m sure I probably saw at some point in my misspent past, but it has fallen into the heap of largely interchangeable movies of its ilk and era. Yeah, the plot sounds familiar, but all these plots sound familiar. It’s a utilitarian story that serves the purpose of putting a group of nubile cuties—each possessing no more than one character trait (nice girl, bitch, slut, nerd etc.)—at the mercy of some “insert weapon of choice here”-wielding madman. It is not a taxing formula.
Here we have the college-prank-gone-wrong variant, wherein sorority sister Megan (Audrina Partridge, TV’s The Hill) is accidentally—and improbably—killed when her cheating boyfriend (Matt O’Leary, Live Free or Die Hard) inhospitably shoves a tire-iron through her chest. Of course, he thinks she’s already dead, but I’m still not 100 percent clear on why he does this. It doesn’t matter much anyway. What matters is that the law frowns on these antics, so her sorority sisters—who were in on the prank—conclude that it might be wisest to chuck Megan down a conveniently located mine shaft. That settles that—until eight months later when they start being terrorized by a mysterious black-robed maniac sporting what can only be called the tricked-out tire-iron of death. Mayhem, creative deaths and a sillier-than-usual (yet fairly transparent) explanation follow.
Now, a handful of critics have hailed Sorority Row as a return to the sweet simplicity and tender wistfulness of ‘80s horror, and while I personally have no nostalgia for most ‘80s horror, I suppose there are those who do. However, any claim that this has to that fondly remembered era is pretty completely ruined by Hendler’s pointlessly artsy direction, a stab at postmodern snarkiness and an unconscionable 101-minute running time. Let’s be honest, this is at best 85 minutes worth of bimbos, boobs and blood. The snarky and very sub-Mean Girls humor rarely works (I did like the line, “Christ, now who set the house on fire?”), and it’s always obviously trying too hard. But in the end, it’s the direction that fricassees the movie’s goose.
For some reason—known only to Mr. Hendler—the film is largely shot in a restricted color scheme that gives the proceedings a strangely drab look. That might be surmountable, but he has also opted to film most of the movie with one of those aimlessly wandering, bobbing cameras—an affectation that’s made even more annoying by his penchant for placing any and every possible object between the camera and the action. Since the film was apparently shot in relatively low light with the lens wide open, there’s virtually no depth of field, meaning there’s always a blob of out-of-focus something or other between us and the action. Presumably, this is artistic. Realistically, it’s just irritating.
It’s not an unwatchable mess, but there’s really nothing to recommend it. Carrie Fisher’s guest bit as the housemother at least adds someone you’ve actually heard of to the mix, but it’s a fairly thankless role and her best line was in the trailer. The rest of the acting isn’t embarrassing, but like the film itself, it lacks any real distinction. That’s the bottom line: The movie is ultimately worth little more than a shrug. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and partying.