Sunday, May 7, 2017

Deadly Sorority (Cover Productions, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I watched a couple of Lifetime movies, including the “premiere” of something called Deadly Sorority, an intriguing tale of skullduggery and murder centered around the student body and faculty at — no, not Whittendale this time, but Barclay University. It begins with Samantha Blake (Greer Grammer, Kelsey Grammer’s daughter) and Kristina Roberts (Emilija Baranac), best friends from high school, attending Barclay together — only their friendship ends almost as soon as they reach Barclay because Kristina has her heart set on pledging the school’s most exclusive sorority, Delta Nu, while Samantha shows up at the sorority house but its principal student leader, Jubilee Swan (Chloe Babcock), takes an instant dislike to Samantha because she’s not from a rich family and she shows up with a sarcastic attitude that indicates how little Samantha thinks of sorority culture and all the snobbery and bullying that goes along with it. So Samantha suffers the loss of her best friend when Jubilee orders Kristina not to have anything to do with Samantha any more on pain of expulsion from Delta Nu. Kristina starts dating the Big Man on Campus, Paul Riveria (Ross Linton), whose huge, hunky, athletic body is matched only by his male ego and total disinterest in tying himself down to just one girl — only within weeks Kristina has broken up with Paul, telling him she’s landed someone better. We only find out later who the “someone better” is.

Meanwhile, writer Rolfe Kanefsky and director Shawn Tolleson actually show us some of the “education” in higher education for a change — all too many college movies make universities look like elaborate summer camps — including a media class taught by Amy Thomas (Moira Kelly), who for some reason we don’t at first understand takes a dislike to Kristina almost instantly; and an English class taught by Justin Miller (Steve Bacic), who is actually married to Amy but doesn’t let that stop him from seducing and having brief affairs with just about every female student at Barclay who will hold still for him. The film begins with the mysterious disappearance of Tanya Brown (Rachelle Gillis) towards the end of the previous semester; Tanya was a Delta Nu member and also one of Miller’s previous student girlfriends. Then Lifetime flashes one of their usual “time” titles — “Four Months Later” (a bit of a surprise since I had assumed that we would flash back rather than forward) — and we see Samantha and Kristina arrive at Barclay together, Kristina get accepted by Delta Nu while Samantha gets blackballed, and then a few weeks later Kristina is mysteriously killed in a car crash. The police at first write it off as an accident but later become convinced that Kristina was murdered — and they’re convinced Samantha did it out of jealousy over losing her friendship to Jubilee Swan and the Delta Nu crowd. When Paul is found unconscious and nearly dead from a drug overdose — and Samantha, who had crashed the Alpha Sigma fraternity house to ask him about Kristina, is the one who finds him — the police and the student body, especially those affiliated with Delta Nu or Alpha Sigma (the two are depicted as having a brother-sister relationship so Delta Nu girls generally date Alpha Sigma boys), are convinced Samantha attacked him, too.

Like a classic Hitchcock hero, Samantha reasons that the only way she’s going to be able to prove she didn’t commit the murders is to find out who did — and when she learns from her roommate, former Delta Nu girl Bree Jones (Samantha Schimmer), who was expelled from the sorority after Jubilee mysteriously turned against her, that Professors Miller and Thomas are actually married to each other, and that Miller was in the library talking to Kristina the night Kristina went missing, Samantha immediately assumes that Miller was having an affair with Kristina, then got tired of her and killed her. Midway through the movie we’re dropped a big hint that Amy Thomas is really the killer — that he’s killing the students her husband has affairs with out of jealousy — but at the very end we find the real killer is [surprise!] Jubilee Swan, who briefly had an affair with Professor Miller and decided that he was the love of her life, so she systematically set about to eliminate any rival — including Tanya, who had her own dalliance with Miller (did writer Kanefsky name him after Henry Miller?), ran afoul of Jubilee and got knocked off by her; as well as Bree, who likewise dallied with the insanely amorous professor and then got taken out just after Samantha got the information out of her about Miller’s previous activities. I’ve commented on at least two previous movies with “sorority” in their titles — Sorority House, a 1939 RKO “B” written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by John Farrow (Mia’s dad), which didn’t include out-and-out murder but had some nice little bits of social comment about the snobbery and cliquishness at the heart of the sorority system; and Sorority Murder, a previous Lifetime production that if anything painted an even grimmer portrait of the sorority system than this one did — indeed, Deadly Sorority is something of a misnomer as a title because the peril Samantha is in has very little to do with the sorority as an institution; it’s just that the head of it is a psycho with an unhealthy crush on a professor who screwed her and abandoned her, and is going to knock off anyone she thinks stands in the way of her all-time love.