Sorority Row

Dir. Stewart Hendler (Karz Entertainment) -- 1 STAR

Just as a stereotypical sorority girl dons dyed hair, acrylic nails, and a two-faced personality, “Sorority Row” masquerades as a thriller—shoddily. The film clings so tightly to the bottom tier of mediocrity that most of it can’t even be laughed at. It’s as though the movie strives to be a slasher film for people who don’t like scary movies or, perhaps, for prepubescent boys; there’s more nudity and outrageous partying than violence and suspense.

Like most horror movies, “Sorority Row” centers on a series of almost implausibly poor decisions. But in addition to exercising bad judgment after danger presents itself, the sisters of Theta Pi are entirely responsible for their own misfortune. They decide to play a ridiculous prank on an ex-boyfriend that seems almost doomed to end badly. The particulars are inconsequential, but suffice it to say their master plan involves fake roofies and a staged death. When their arrangements take a nasty turn, the sisters decide to dispose of the body in a well mere miles away. Naturally someone discovers their secret and embarks on a massacre during one long day of partying.

Of course, this being a sorority movie, the characters do not only make poor choices; they make them while wearing very little clothing. Director Stewart Hendler seems to have been confused by his mission to remake the 1983 cult classic “The House on Sorority Row.” Murders in his movie last 10 seconds each, acting as commercial interruptions in what appears to be a TRL spring break special with copious amounts of foam, alcohol, and cleavage. Reducing the movie to adolescent fantasy prevents it from becoming even remotely frightening.

Most of the acting is wholly unconvincing, but some performances were at least fun to watch. There is something strangely amusing about watching reality-TV star Audrina Patridge as the first victim of the sorority girls’ stupidity. “The Hills” revealed Patridge as an aspiring actress; arguably her one-line role in “Sorority Row” is not a great step toward achieving that goal. In another all-too-brief appearance, Carrie Fisher manages to imbue her role as Theta Pi housemother with Princess Leia-like badassery.

Most disappointing is Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce and Demi), who essentially reprises her role as the nerdy, slightly excluded co-ed she played in “The House Bunny”—a sorority film just as horrifying as this one. Like many of the film’s actresses, Willis seems incapable of portraying genuine emotion of any kind, be it fear, bravery, or anxiety.

The sorority girls’ dialogue seems rather uncharacteristic of “best friends” but serves at least to break up the painful cycle of party scene to death scene and back to party scene. Insults like “You make being a bitch an art form” aren’t making it into the lexicon anytime soon, though certain occasions might call for them.

The males are even less realistic. “Sorority Row” completely slanders men by portraying them as one of three types: one, psychotic and suicidal; two, so stressed that they lose touch with reality; third, arrogant and childish enough to kick the sorority sisters around like footballs. Lesson learned: they all end up dead, maybe.

The most egregious sin is the movie’s total lack of suspense. Imminent danger is signaled by the scraping of the murderer’s weapon (a tire iron) against a wall. Suspenseful music, by contrast, delivers no thrilling action, and thus becomes such a frustrating aspect of the movie that by the end there is no uncertainty—however fleeting—of what comes next.

Both “Sorority Row” and Theta Pi eventually go down in flames. In the theatre, the film’s end produced an astounding round of applause, either for the film being over or for the meekest character making the first intelligent move of the story. Ultimately, the possibility of a sequel—as suggested by the ambiguous final scene—may be the scariest part of all.

—Staff writer Brianne Corcoran can be reached at corcoran@fas.harvard.edu.