Another in the seemingly endless line of horror remakes, Sorority Row has the distinction of being based on one of the most forgettable of the 1980s slasher ripoffs, The House on Sorority Row (1983), which even the preeminent drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs called "average." That basically means the new film has the freedom to start from scratch, with no real fan club to upset. But the new film also owes a good deal to I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), with the killer inexplicably waiting eight months for her/his revenge after the initial horrible deed.
What happens is this: some sorority sisters decide to play a prank on a cheating boyfriend (Matt O'Leary). One sister gives him some "roofies," which he slips to his ex-girlfriend Megan (Audrina Patridge). He proceeds to make out with the near-comatose girl until she throws up and passes out. The panicked boy and five sorority sisters, plus the playing-possum Megan, pile into a car and head for the hospital, but get lost and wind up at the old mine shaft instead.
The joke is that Megan has been faking thus far, but the tragedy is that she winds up dead anyway. The remaining sisters, blonde leader Jessica (Leah Pipes), pill-popping slut Chugs (Margo Harshman), Asian hottie Claire (Jamie Chung) and nerdy, bespectacled Ellie (Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) decide to hide the body and keep it a secret. Tough Cassidy (Briana Evigan), with her smoky, throaty voice, protests, but eventually finds herself outvoted. Nothing happens for eight months, until graduation day, and then the murders start happening, accompanied by eerie warnings sent to all the girls' cell phones. (The killer wears a graduation robe and wields a "pimped out" version of the original murder weapon, a tire iron.) Fortunately, a lot of secondary characters get murdered first so that the five wonderfully bitchy heroines can get some screen time in.
That's the good news about Sorority Row; these heroines are refreshing. Firstly, they are guilty of the original death, if only by association. They're not innocent or unblemished, and they're certainly not victims. Only one girl, Ellie, admits to being a virgin, which is usually the mark of a traditional "final girl" in movies like this, but Ellie does not fit that role any more than the others do. The rest of the girls take charge of their situations. They use their sexuality to their own advantage (and yes, the rated-R movie actually does have sex and nudity), they control their men and they seem to be in control of their destinies. The script actually allows all of them little moments to shine, and to reveal bits and pieces of their true nature. When Claire goes off to perform a dangerous task at night, her sisters warn her to be careful. She replies, "I got this," and whips out a flare gun, holding it like a warrior princess. As for the selfish blonde Jessica, she turns out to be the funniest character in the film, with some choice lines ("guys -- if he blabs, that's orange jump suits for all of us!"). But also, the movie allows her to develop more than one dimension by providing her with situations to which there are no laughs; she can only clam up.
Aside from that, gore hounds will be interested to know that there are several really good new, interesting deaths in this film, including a unique use of a bottle and the shaft of a dumbwaiter. In one killing, a girl gets stabbed through the chin, and when her mouth drops open, you can see the glint of steel between her lips. There's also a terrific visual gimmick as one of the girls dumps soap bubbles into the house's hot tub to disguise some daytime nookie; but later, the bubbles keep expanding, creating a huge, thick, bubbly carpet all over the yard (a perfect place for a crafty killer to hide), complete with a horrible sputtering noise as the gooey stuff clogs up the tub's filters.
Alas, that's about where the good stuff ends, and all of it is shoehorned into the inept plotting and directing that usually goes with horror remakes. The killer's identity is all too obvious, and I pegged it early on with no doubts. Worst of all is the director Stewart Hendler (2007's Whisper) and his idiotic camerawork. Any time any sudden movement occurs onscreen, the film lurches and cuts before we can see anything. A scene in which a guy gets stabbed in the leg is totally obscured; it's just a bunch of blurry, dark shots -- footage so bad it would have been cut out of any other film and trashed. Don't these guys know that a motion picture camera is perfectly capable of capturing motion without moving the camera itself? Wouldn't it have been more effective to have a still shot and then see some sudden movement within the shot? The makers of this film didn't even seem to realize that they had a good thing with these five badass biatches. No one seems to spend too much time thinking about these things; the trick is to get these films in and out, quickly and cheaply, and move onto the next one (perhaps even Sorority Row 2).