The studio behind Sorority Row, the horror movie featuring Audrina Patridge, Rumer Willis, and Carrie Fisher, didn't show the film to critics. Is it possible they didn't want audiences to know the sisters are racist and advocate "roofie sex"?
Sorority Row is a generic low-budget horror film with plenty of shrieking, scantily-clad college women. In fact, the filmmakers didn't even bother to come up with an original script. The credits say it's based on the screenplay Seven Sisters, without mentioning that the script was already made into the 1983 movie The House on Sorority Row. In the film, which opens today, Megan (Audrina Patridge)'s boyfriend cheats on her and her sorority sisters, including their bitchy leader Jessica (Leah Pipes), nerdy Ellie (Rumer Willis), and token minority Claire (Jamie Chung), decide to get back at him by making him think he killed her. The hoax goes awry and she actually does die, so they dump her body and agree never to speak of it again. However, a year later they get a text from Megan and a killer in a graduation robe starts stalking them.
The nicest thing critics had to say about the film is that it isn't as bad as you might expect. They said the film had a few good one-liners, but the jokes don't start at all until halfway through the film. It seems the filmmakers couldn't decide whether to frighten audiences or make them laugh at how cheesy it is, so the sudden burst of humor seems out of place. Either way, one sister telling Chung's character she likes having her around because, "It makes me multi-cultural without having to do anything," doesn't seem all that funny. Nor can we appreciate Chung defending "roofie sex," saying, "You get laid and you get a good night's sleep."
Below, we take a look at what the critics (who could manage to get their hands on a copy) are saying about Sorority Row:
Why didn't Summit Entertainment show it to critics? Hollywood has realized even positive reviews can't help exploitation efforts like this one.
Sisters are doing it for themselves in this jolly college horror flick – if by "it" you mean horrible slaughter and softcore nudity. Much of the plot and characterisation can be gleaned from a quick scan of the cast list: among these are "Bra-Clad Sister", "Trampoline Sister", "Already Drunk Sister", "Over-It Sister", as well as "Amazed Senior Guy" and "Nerdy Underclassman".
Snaps to Carrie Fisher for being a good sport, as the sorority's badass house mom, but don't rush the theater: The tedious flick offers little more than a few scares, and plenty of boobs. And we're not just talking about the cast.
Brain-dead as to motivation, plotting or common sense, [director] Stewart Hendler's Sorority Row scores where it counts: The carnage escalates, nicely tinged with black humor. Acting honors go to Leah Pipes' blond queen bee Jessica, who rules this roost but not her beau, the son of a senator (a colorless Matt Lanter). Pipes is a scary parody of Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick in Election, focused on just one thing: herself.
It's difficult to laugh at Sorority Row early on as the characters put their least likable traits forward. Jessica enjoys having Claire as a friend because, she says, "It makes me multi-cultural without having to do anything." Chugs defends "roofie sex," saying, "You get laid andyou get a good night's sleep." Later in the film, humor comes out more regularly, mostly thanks to rhymes-with-witch Jessica, who gets the best toss-away lines of dialogue and even takes a break from avoiding slaughter to get into a cat fight with a rival for her boyfriend's affections. As Jessica, Pipes seems to be having the most fun, but it's telling that there are few differences in the cast members' performances between early scenes when they pretend to act upset and later in the film when they're supposed to actually be terrified.
Sorority Row isn't as completely dire as its pedigree suggests: the script contains a few nicely barbed one-liners, while Stewart Hendler's relatively tasteful handling of the death scenes results in a few throat-grabbing shocks. And, to its credit, the movie never attempts to present its self-serving central characters as anything other than repellent, devious over-privileged monsters. But it also never delivers a decent reason for us to spend 101 minutes in their company, resulting in a shallow, occasionally diverting but largely irrelevant horror throwback.
Like the recent Drag Me to Hell, Sorority Row is fixated on oral punishment (bottles, flares). But unlike Sam Raimi's roller coaster, the script never successfully balances horror with comedy: The first half goes for the straight slice-and-dice approach, but around the halfway point, ham-fisted gallows humor suddenly — and by now inappropriately — begins to flow freely. Even Carrie Fisher's scenes as the stern, gun-totin' sorority mother (echoing her cameo in The Blues Brothers) can't choose between laughs or action.
With its endless party-hearty babble, ridiculous whodunit plot, gruesome but brief death scenes, a few funny lines (nasty sister Leah Pipes steals the show) and a bizarre Carrie Fisher-with-a-shotgun cameo, it's all slash and no stalk - a relentless series of payoffs without any build-up. A useful working definition of mindless entertainment, down to laughably gratuitous nudity, it only just scrapes a passing grade.
On a technical level, Sorority Row could be used as an example for why night exterior scenes shouldn't be shot on digital. All of the scenes set at the mine look awful; they're grainy, blurry, shifting in and out of focus like a home movie shot on an old camcorder rather than a feature film made by professionals. This hit-and-miss digital cinematography pulls the viewer right out of the movie. But what the film suffers from most is an identity crisis. Sorority Rowis never quite sure if it wants you to laugh with it or at it. The horror-comedy hybrid is perhaps the trickiest genre mash-up to get right; are you making a horror film with some moments of humor, or a comedy with some horror in it? It's the difference between Screamand Scary Movie, and a reason why so many horror-comedies don't succeed artistically or commercially. In the case of Sorority Row, one gets the distinct feeling that the filmmakers were trying to make a horror film with some comic relief in it ... until they got into the editing room, saw just how goofy their movie was, and tried to salvage it by embracing its inherent ridiculousness. But I'm just speculating.
The ending of Sorority Row is bad — cheesy, worn-out, seen it in 78 horror movies before. It's almost awful enough to make you forget that the movie that came before it is — as R-rated youth-horror films go — kind of fun. It's all cheese, but at least this cheese, for the most part, doesn't stink.