Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: Sorority Row (2009)

Sorority Row (2009)

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sorority Party Massacre, an utterly irredeemable pile of garbage that desperately wanted to be a throwback to the '80s "golden age" of slasher movies. It not only fell far short of that not-so-lofty goal, it didn't even make it off the ledge. Today, I'm reviewing a movie with a very similar title and premise, a loose remake of the 1983 film The House on Sorority Row. Apart from the surface similarities, however, Sorority Row easily wipes the floor with that wannabe, successfully recapturing the sense of twisted fun of the old "classics" without ever feeling like it's going out of its way to be a throwback. When it comes to modern slasher movies, Sorority Row is an overlooked gem, a standout example of what happens when you take a disposable genre like the slasher film and let people who know what they're doing have a crack at it. There's hardly an original beat in it, but what there is is put together well enough that it's easily forgivable.

The premise reads like a college-set clone of I Know What You Did Last Summer: a poorly thought-out prank by a group of Theta Pi sorority sisters accidentally causes one of them, Megan (Audrina Patridge -- remember when The Hills was a thing?), to die a painful death. Eight months later, the five other sisters -- party girl Chugs (Margo Harshman), nerdy Ellie (Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce), hot chick Claire (Jamie Chung), level-headed Cassidy (Briana Evigan), and bitchy queen bee Jessica (Leah Pipes) -- are about to graduate, but not before throwing one last party. But somebody who knows what they did way back when is sending them threatening texts, and later, offing them and their boyfriends one by one. Is it Megan, back from the dead and out for revenge? Is it Garrett, Chugs' brother and the prank's intended target, who was there when Megan was killed and has since grown increasingly unstable? Or is it someone else entirely?

What sets this movie apart from other, lesser "throwback" slashers is its attitude. It's got the blood and boobs you'd expect from a movie like this, but at its heart, Sorority Row is best described as Mean Girls: The Sorority Slasher Years. Leah Pipes plays Jessica, the conniving leader of the group, as less a bimbo and more as a (slightly) grown-up Regina George, willing to go to any lengths to cover up Theta Pi's "secret". Even when the other girls are justifiably panicking, Jessica remains flippant about the situation, making wisecracks when discovering a body and caring more about not going to jail for Megan's accidental death than about the lives of her sisters. I grew to hate Jessica for all the right reasons, and the longer the film went on, the more I eagerly anticipated seeing her get what she had coming to her. Even though the other girls are pretty much caricatures (you've got the bimbos, the nerd, and the obvious "final girl"), all-around solid acting -- a rarity in this genre -- made them all, for the most part, believable and interesting. Briana Evigan and Margo Harshman made for the best of a good bunch, though Rumer Willis was the weak link, with Ellie frequently coming off as whiny, and Audrina Patridge didn't get enough screen time to leave any impression one way or the other. Oh, and let's not forget Carrie Fisher as the house mother, clearly having fun and getting some of this film's standout moments. Overall, the film was great at maintaining a sense of fun throughout the proceedings without diving into out-and-out camp, and it even made the killer's reveal a genuine twist rather than feeling like a cop-out.

So, we've already got a better-acted and more interestingly-written film than Sorority Party Massacre, but what about the stuff that really makes a slasher? Without good kills, a slasher movie falls limp no matter how good everything else is. While Sorority Row has a fairly average number of kills (I counted about nine, including Megan at the beginning and the killer at the end) and doesn't come close to Saw/Hostel levels of graphic violence, it makes up for quantity with quality. The kills are all done very well, feeling suspenseful and even downright artful on a couple of occasions in both the setup and in their execution, and feature creative and bloody uses of wine bottles, dumbwaiters, tire irons, and flare guns. If you're watching this film for nudity, I must tell you that it's fairly sparse and comes entirely from minor side characters, so no, you won't get to see Audrina from The Hills showing everyone her, uh, hills. That said, the film still manages to be sexy even without the main characters taking their tops off, in keeping with the film's sense of fun about itself.

Score: 4 out of 5

It's not revolutionary, but what it is is good, not-so-clean fun that knows exactly what it is and does a great job of being that.

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