Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2009

House of the dead

Dry, humorless 'Sorority Row' another victim to self-imposed limitations

Sorority Row
Summit Entertainment
Director: Stewart Hendler
Screenplay: Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, based on a screenplay by Mark Rosman
Starring: Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Jamie Chung, Rumer Willis, Margo Harshman, Matt Lanter, Matt O'Leary and Carrie Fisher
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
(out of four)

Those who already find the collegiate greek system to be a hollow waste of time will get no argument from Sorority Row. Maybe that's kind of the point - a satirical embellishment of all the most depraved stereotypes, rumors and mythology that surround the whole tradition.

But whatever intent there may be is gets quickly lost in what amounts to nothing more than a by-the-numbers exercise in systematic serial killing. I may be able to get behind it if it actually had a sense of humor about the material, but it doesn't. Sure, some of the deaths might play for laughs, but the film isn't using that as a means to comment on anything within the action or about the characters.

That's one of the most aggravating tendencies of your typical studio horror film - especially those geared toward the mentality of teenagers or, oh I don't know, those who would actually join a fraternity or sorority. (Zing.) As so many modern horror scenarios are best played as dark comedy, the films and their makers like to pretend they're all tongue-in-cheek.

In reality, all these films are doing is checking off a body count with all the methodical energy of a tax accountant.

Anyone with a sense of humor can see the undercurrents of these films for what they are. Except, it seems, the people who actually make them. Where is the wit of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero and De Palma?

I know, I know - I'm wasting my time trying to get to the bottom of it, especially with just a silly little movie like Sorority Row. (And the name-dropping is just gratuitous!) Just another dumb horror flick; who cares!

But that's exactly my point. Hordes of people see a movie like Sorority Row or Saw 12 and that's their entire definition of a horror movie. When in reality, they could all be so much more. Even the ones with ordinary plots and archetypal characters.

The cast is made up of a stockpile of catty, superficial sorority chicks - but calling them stereotypes wouldn't even be suitable. I mean, a filmmaker can actually do something with stereotypes. These characters are merely placeholders - alluring twentysomethings waiting in line for their turn to get maimed.

And it's all on the up and up - after all, the girls in question have a dark secret binding them together. Nine months ago, they decided to play a prank on one of their philandering boyfriends, forcing the ex, Megan (Audrina Partridge) to play dead and scare the daylights out of Garrett (Matt O'Leary). And he gets fooled alright - to the extent that he shoves a tire iron through her larynx (there's a reasonable explanation, I promise), killing her for real.

Garrett and the gals agree to bury the body in an abandoned mineshaft - despite the protests of "the good sorority sister," Cassidy (Briana Evigan). And then nine months later, everyone who knows anything about this deep, dark secret starts turning up dead, one by one.

In a cinematic fantasy like this, we can all delight in seeing nefarious sorority girls get their comeuppance - especially if drunken frat guys are the collateral damage. But director Stewart Hendler, while more than passable from a technical standpoint, makes the proceedings excessively dull. We get lulled into a sort of viewer's auto-pilot, where all we're doing is waiting for the next murder and the inevitable twist ending revealing the true killer.

Hendler makes sure not to let us off that easily, dragging the film through an exasperatingly long climactic sequence that delivers the idiotic twist and then continues for 20 minutes longer. Sorority Row is rarely lacking in action, gore or breasts - or a combination of the three - and still manages to find a way to induce boredom.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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