September 11, 2009
A darkly humorous morality tale about sorority sisters who play a prank, see it go horribly wrong and then cover up the crime out of misguided "sisterhood" and "loyalty," it gets by on snarky sorority girls, sassy talk and shivering dread -- the sound of a tire iron, the murder weapon in the crime, dragging down cinder block walls and across concrete floors.
And it's got topless women, sexual situations, "date rape" drugs, irresponsible binge drinking: you know -- college.
The minxes of Theta Pi, lorded over by the beautiful and ruthless Jessica (Leah Pipes, the perfect Mean Girl) "get even" with a cheating boy by faking the "roofies" (date rape drug) death of his girlfriend. But when they drive him and "the body" out to an abandoned mine to ditch the body, he takes the fakery too literally and finishes the job.
Standing out in the middle of nowhere, lit only by the headlamps of Daddy's Escalade, Jessica, Chugs (Marsha Harshman), Claire (Jamie Chung), Ellie (Rumer Willis) and Cassidy (Briana Evigan) have to weigh the consequences of what they caused to happen. Granted, they might have thought of this before letting Megan ( Audrina Partridge) get stabbed with a tire iron. But they're college kids. They don't know from "consequences."
"Every job," Jessica pleads," every relationship for the rest of our lives" is going to be tainted with this awful mistake. "Good-bye, life."
Unless, she suggests, they cover it up. So they do.
Cut to graduation night, eight months later, and they're getting cell-phone photos of the crime. And the girls start dying off, one by one.
The "types" in this ensemble are recognizable -- the hard-case Jessica, the hard-drinking floozy (Chugs), the ditz (Claire), the hysteric (Ellie) and the conscience, the girl who wants to do the right thing (Cassidy). The young cast acquit themselves nicely in roles that are, by definition, narrowly defined.
Director Stewart Hendler handles this in something like what's become the Summit Entertainment house style --flashy, glitzy, sexy depictions of a party-packed youth culture of affluence. The blue-tinted Twilight made the big bucks, but Never Back Down is the defining look of this new studio. The dialogue has a bitchy edge to it -- Ellie, "the smart one," is "like a Spellcheck with a nice rack." "Find me on Facebook. I'll totally confirm you!"
"Waxing isn't just for floors anymore!"
And as for sex games with this crowd -- "I don't have time for 'Catch me, rape me!'"
In sum, it may just be another nut-in-a-cowl killing people, with its requisite "Go get the decorations out of the basement" set-ups. But the murders -- deserved or not -- arrive after appropriate amounts of suspense, fear and dread. Rob Zombie and the later Saw hacks could take notes on this.
Because really, for all the pajama parties, "roofies," hook-ups and hazing rituals, sorority life really is all about the learning. Right?