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April 2010

Sorority Row

cast: Leah Pipes, Margo Harshman, Jamie Chung, Briana Evigan, and Rumer Willis

director: Stewart Hendler

97 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
E1 DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
review by Jonathan McCalmont

Sorority Row

What an utterly pointless film. What an utter waste of time. Sorority Row is a 're-imagining' of the mostly forgotten slasher film The House On Sorority Row (1983). Which is another way of saying that Sorority Row is a new film but in a desperate attempt to give the project some credibility and tap into the core horror demographic, the producers bought up some of the residual rights to an old slasher movie as a way of marketing a film so creatively bankrupt that it seems to embody everything that is wrong with American horror at the moment.

Things begin promisingly with a long take of a party at a sorority house. The camera moves through the crowd in a single take and shows us a horde of models-turned-actresses parading around in underwear and bathing costumes, shaking their underfed bodies to the bass heavy sounds of some track that nobody will remember in six months' time.

Upstairs, we meet the sorority's senior class, a group of bitchy young women who talk trash and spend their time drinking, fucking and making catty remarks which, if not actually funny, do form a kind of crude parody of wit. A screenwriter's equivalent of what you get when you give a chimp a paintbrush and a canvas if you will. Moving swiftly into an unsuccessful mash-up of Heathers (1988), and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), the sorority sisters decide to play a prank on someone's brother by faking a rohypnol overdose.

Dragging the corpse out to the middle of nowhere, the sisters tell the whimpering boy to go and look for some sharp rocks to dismember the corpse but, while their back is turned, the boy takes them at their work and sticks the tire iron into the spoofing body of one of the sisters. Horrified at what they have done, the sisters dump the body in a mine-shaft and go back to their empty and pathetic lives, until graduation, when someone in a graduation gown turns up and starts murdering them...

Is it the dead sister returned from the grave? Is it the boy looking for revenge? Is it one of the sisters driven mad by revenge? In truth, it could be practically anyone as the entire cast of characters is composed of utterly hateful and wholly unsympathetic twats. Frankly, if they all started smearing excrement up the walls and cracking each others' heads open with their expensive high-heels; it would not come as anything close to a surprise.

Technically, this film is a joke. Despite being a slasher, it is bloated and weighed down by a host of un-engaging subplots that serve only to cripple the pacing and expand the running time beyond the point of human endurance. It is close to an hour before the first revenge killing takes place and, frankly, it feels like six or seven. On a scene-by-scene basis, the film simply does not work as director Stewart Hendler reveals himself to be completely incapable of building any kind of tension into this series of bloody and yet quickly unimaginative murders.

Narratively, the film is a complete mess. Clearly, some attempt was made to structure Sorority Row as a kind of whodunit but the problem is that none of the various subplots are developed enough, or have enough about them to stick in the memory, meaning that you spend your time going 'Ellie... is that the one with glasses?' rather than going 'Ah... Ellie, she's the one whose sister was murdered and who resents Jessica's dominance over the group'. Frankly, when your narrative is filled with indistinguishable half-naked women, there is no space for psychology even if you do have a script capable of supplying it, and this script is unrelentingly witless and terrible.

Stylistically, the film does at least look quite good. Hendler brings a music video-style glamour to proceedings turning the sorority into a ridiculously excessive parody of university life. It's a bit like what you might get if the Playboy Channel had made The OC. However, while this does certainly make the film distinctive, it jars wildly with the whodunit structure of the plot. A simpler plot coupled with more imaginatively gory murders and properly constructed kill scenes would have resulted in a joyously sleazy high-budget exploitation flick but this blend of cod-psychology and bouncing boobies is just ridiculous.

Sorority Row also comes with a DVD-worth of extras including a load of uninteresting deleted scenes and a surprisingly unrewarding function that allows you to skip directly from kill to kill. However, there is an extra worth watching and that is the one that contains interviews with the director and screenwriters, all of whom are greying men and all of whom speak about the experience of being in a sorority and of growing up as a woman without even a hint of irony.

Sorority Row is a stupid and misogynistic waste of everyone's time. Its only function will have been to secure another paycheque for a few former models and to remind us all of quite how rubbish the horror films coming out of America at the moment really are. Ugh.

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