Del reviews ‘Haunting on Fraternity Row’

Image courtesy of Benaroya Pictures.

“Haunting on Fraternity Row” starring Jacob Artist, Jayson Blair and Shanley Caswell. Directed by Brant Sersen. 99 minutes. Rated TV-MA.

Del’s take

There’s no explaining my Netflix whims, but they have introduced me to surprisingly good films (“Troll Hunter, “Birdbox”) and some real stinkers ( “Open House,” “IO”).

Then there’s that gray area between, where movies that are neither good nor awful fall. “Haunting on Fraternity Row” fits that realm. You can’t expect much from a movie with the word “fraternity” in its title and “Haunting” doesn’t provide much. It’s a frat party punch bowl of clichéd characters and their predicaments that you have seen a thousand times before minus these silly details.

The story is about a group of frathouse seniors on the day of their last big bash before graduation, the annual Luau Party. They want this to be a party for the ages because although it’s never said, they seem to collectively understand their time together is soon to end and they don’t want these days to be forgotten (although they will). So the boys are busy abusing pledges, stocking the shelves with booze and kegs, setting up Hawaiian-themed decorations and flirting with sorority cleaning girls.

Speaking of kegs, the hapless pledges drop one down the basement stairs and it punches a hole through a wall, revealing a tunnel that opens into a scary room with scores of light fixtures. One of the boys refers to it as a place where “you can’t see your shadow.” Oooh-weeee-ooooh.

The room is quickly forgotten as party time approaches. Tiki torches are lit. Sand is poured for the “beach.” A slaughtered pig makes its way to the roaster. And did I mention booze? Oceans of booze – the entire output of a brewery and a distillery – is laid out in astonishing plentitude. It’s like Golden Corral buffet for alcoholics.

Frat brother Dougie (Ashton Moio), meanwhile, has been researching the house’s past and learns that a terrible event took place here decades ago – the owner at that time invited a group of people to dinner and slaughtered them. Dougie thinks the creepy room may have some larger significance than a room where a person can’t see his shadow.

The party commences, with all the alcohol-fueled, sex-starved antics you know to expect from countless movies about frat boys and the sorority girls who love them – until all hell breaks loose, and I mean literally breaks loose. Objects move, mysterious growls emanate from the shadows, and people start dying, their eyes seemingly burned from the sockets.

I won’t tell you what happens afterwards should you decide to throw away an hour and a half of your life on this movie. Suffice it to say “Haunting” has more vices than virtues. It is sometimes amusing (but not often enough), sometimes spooky, and it might just remind you of a college experience or two (not me – I commuted).

Notice that damning with faint praise? That’s because “Haunting” is mostly a hastily assembled mashup of hackneyed characters doing what hackneyed characters do – except they’re doing it in a horror movie. That might work with sufficient camp (“Happy Death Day”), but the laughs are about as unlikely as any of these dimwits getting a job after graduation.

You’ve got the rich asshole and his catty sorority girlfriend, the hunk who’s dumb as a brick, the fat pledge, the nerd pledge, the smart frat who uses his powers for, well, neither good nor evil, but nothing productive either. Then you’ve got the earnest, soulful frat, Jason (Jacob Artist), and the girl he’s crushing on, Claire (Shanley Caswell). Jason is too shy to make his move but Claire is patient and awaits his stiffened courage (not what you think) while the other boys rollick in the receding tide of hormonal sex addiction (they are about to graduate from college, after all). Will Jason and Claire hook up? Will Dougie get to the bottom of the frathouse murder mystery?

And who’s going to clean up this mess?

I didn’t much care for “Haunting.” Characters are thinly sketched. The house’s backstory is barely touched. A motivation for the “haunting” is absent. Director Sersen seems to care more about scenes of college debauchery and raunchy dialogue than telling a decent ghost story.

It’s all very cursory and sketchy. I wasn’t scared because I didn’t care about anybody. You won’t either.

For a sparse moment of fun check out “Haunting on Fraternity Row.” I caught it on Netflix, where all it cost me was 99 minutes of boredom.

Grade D+.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.