Sorority Row (2009)

A very loose remake of The House on Sorority Road (1983), with some added black comedy. The story centers around a group of Theta Pi sorority sisters who decide to play a prank on one of their boyfriends. Specifically, faking his girlfriend Megan’s death and putting the resulting footage on Youtube. This being a horror film, it goes wrong in less than ten minutes. Megan gets stabbed by a tire iron and dies. Her friends take a good long look at the situation, and being reasonable adults, decide to call the police.

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Ahahahha no. They decide to cover the whole thing up, and toss Megan’s body down a mine shaft. And for a while, it looks like they got away with it.

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Cut to the end of the school year, where the sisters of Theta Pi are celebrating their graduation with a huge party. Pity that somebody’s texting them pictures of the murder scene and leaving the evidence all over the sorority house. But who could be responsible?

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I’m making Sorority Row sound much funnier than it actually is. The setup has the potential for a lot of black humor. Lacking likable or sympathetic characters, the logical step for a horror film is to play the whole thing as funny and nasty as possible. If you can’t make the audience like your characters, at least make the story fun to watch. And it must be said that Sorority Row makes the effort. Sadly it ends up missing the mark more often than not, torn between making a “serious” sort of slasher and just accepting the sheer absurdity of its plot. The dialog is snarky and fun, but the delivery never quite hits the right spot. This is one of those films that I wouldn’t mind seeing remade, because it has the potential to be a really good black comedy – with a director and cast that accepted the premise, that is.

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Consider this: your slasher’s weapon is a “tricked out” tire iron. None of the characters are especially likable, and the majority of them are so wealthy that they’ve lost touch with how the world works, or borderline sociopathic with their zeal in covering the murder up. All of the female characters are beautiful and scantily clad. It’s a premise ripe for humor and deconstruction. But if you’re not going to do that, then you’re left with telling a story with a message. Horror films usually have one, as subtle or blunt as the director prefers. And why not? The majority of horror, and slasher films in particular, are convoluted morality tales. This is how you should act, and these are the consequences for acting badly.

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The problem here is that Sorority Row isn’t funny, and doesn’t really have anything to say about the behavior of its characters. It doesn’t go into why covering up the murder is wrong besides the fact that it’s against the law – this is the reason that so many of the characters freak out. Despite the fact that Megan’s younger sister actually shows up in the story, the reaction of her family – who only know that she’s missing – is only brought up once. The turmoil is always that the main cast did something illegal, which could throw them in prison. Not betraying one of their supposedly closest friends, and letting her family live on in anguished uncertainty. Nope, they’re more concerned with whether or not they’ll be going to jail.

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This is their big moral dilemma.

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And hey, that would make for good comedy if you wanted to go in that direction. Unlikable characters struggling to survive against a righteous killer. Give me something like Scream or Fresh Meat. Take your premise and run with it! Don’t futz around if you haven’t got anything to say. Stories shouldn’t just present events as they happen – a story should have interpretations about what happens inside it, and how the characters react. One of the great joys of film spectatorship is looking at the film’s interpretation and seeing whether or not it matches up with your own. This doesn’t happen in Sorority Row. Things just happen and the film carries the audience along for the ride.

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Lastly, I want to say something about the portrayal of the main cast. On one hand, I’m pleased to see a film that portrays women who clearly enjoy sex and hedonism for its own sake – it’s clear that these women, however you interpret them, are enjoying life for their own sakes’, not anyone else. Some of them have emotional connections to men which are shown and reinforced through sex, others have platonic friendships with men and other women, and a few of the characters have sex just for the joy of sex – no relationships required. If films can portray and celebrate male (hetero)sexuality, then they can damn sure do the same for women. However, all of them women in Sorority Row are conventionally attractive, and all but one are white. Unfortunately, this continues with a trend in storytelling of saying that conventionally attractive, straight, white women are the only characters who can explore their sexual desire.

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So, in conclusion, Sorority Row is a decent entry into the slasher subgenre, but it doesn’t do anything new. It would have worked much better as a horror-comedy.

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