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Dustin Putman

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Sorority Row  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Stuart Hendler.
Cast: Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Matt O'Leary, Matt Lanter, Julian Morris, Carrie Fisher, Caroline D'Amore, Audrina Patridge, Maxx Hennard.
2009 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 11, 2009.
It's a toss-up which is better—1983's fairly standard but mood-heavy slasher pic "The House on Sorority Row" or the title-shortened inevitable loose remake "Sorority Row." The latter has higher production values, but is even more standard, an inferior "I Know What You Did Last Summer" clone that trades in a hook, slicker, and reasonably well-developed characters for a pimped-out tire iron, hooded graduation gown, and broad-stroked stereotypes. There are few surprises as the body count rises, save for how unexpectedly anticlimactic the reveal of the killer turns out to be.

When boyfriend Garrett (Matt O'Leary) cheats on her, Theta Pi member Megan (Audrina Patridge) plots with her sorority sisters—domineering queen bee Jessica (Leah Pipes), follower Claire (Jamie Chung), brainy Ellie (Rumer Willis), slutty Chugs (Margo Harshman), and nice girl Cassidy (Briana Evigan)—to get back at him by faking her own death. Their joke does not go as planned when Garrett ends up accidentally killing Megan for real—an act that all involved realize could ruin their lives. Cassidy is adamantly against hiding the body, but has little choice but to go along with it when the rest threaten to blackmail her. Eight months later, the ladies of Theta Pi are graduating, but just as the end-of-year festivities are getting underway, the girls all receive a menacing photo from Megan's phone of the thought-disposed murder weapon. Either Megan is still alive, or someone else knows about their dirty deeds and isn't about to let them get away with it.

"Sorority Row" features a quixotic opening credits sequence, introducing the main players and hard-partying college setting through a series of extended tracking shots methodically edited together to look like one. It's an ambitious start to an otherwise by-the-number slasher film, and it raises one's expectations too much too soon. Director Stewart Hendler and screenwriters Josh Stolberg (2007's "Good Luck Chuck") and Peter Goldfinger waste no time in cutting to the chase, leaving poor Megan at the bottom of a mine shaft and zooming ahead so as not to spend another moment without a cloaked psychopath doing away with good-looking twenty-somethings. A few of the kills are fiendishly wicked—i.e., a bottle is stuffed down a person's throat and gradually fills back up with blood, another is dragged through a yard of soapy foam and shot in the face with a flare gun—and, at least for a time, there's some fun in guessing who the malevolent figure in black is. One needn't bother growing to care about the story's mystery aspect, though, because it's underwhelming, talky and cheeseball. As for the characters, they never rise above carefully individualized types. Without interests, hobbies or future prospects, they exist within a solitary personality trait.

The ensemble is uneven, and so is the film's tone, swaying between dead seriousness and comic cheekiness. Hints of "Mean Girls" satire squeak by—upon seeing a corpse, Jessica matter-of-factly says, "Oh my God, she looks terrible"—but it isn't sharp enough to be truly funny. Likewise, scares are in low supply, a few jumpy startles about all it is good for from that respect. In the role of lead heroine Cassidy, Briana Evigan (2008's "Step Up 2: The Streets") looks contemplative and bares her guilty conscience, but is just as undernourished from a writing standpoint as her supporting co-stars. Evigan is a bore in comparison to Leah Pipes, digging into the snooty, egotistical Jessica; Jamie Chung (2009's "Dragonball: Evolution"), the most sympathetic of the group for being the most complicated as the regretful Claire, and Caroline D'Amore, an eye-catching find as Megan's party-crashing younger sister Maggie. As Ellie, Rumer Willis (2008's "The House Bunny") overdoes the mousy, virginal shtick, and Audrina Patridge (TV's "The Hills") has no more than a cameo as the ill-fated Megan. Finally, Carrie Fisher (2009's "Fanboys") grins and bears it while really wishing she were somewhere else as sorority house mother Mrs. Crenshaw.

The best horror films ratchet up to a climactic crescendo of tension and frights. "Sorority Row" simply peters out the moment the identity of the killer is revealed. Cue a long, drawn-out explanation, clunky dialogue, and a motive that is lame by any standards. Meanwhile, the survivors are free to carry on without consequence of their heinous criminal actions and the ending suggests a potential sequel that would be better off never arriving. In spite of a peppy pace and speckles of inspiration here and there, "Sorority Row" feels empty and laborious when it should be fun, insincere when it should be earnest. Much like the sisters of Theta Pi, a brain couldn't have hurt, too.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman