Director: Andrew Neel
Starring: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Gus Halper, Danny Flaherty, Jake Picking, Virginia Gardener, Austin Lyon, James Franco
Plot: Still struggling to deal with his assault over the summer break Brad (Schnetzer) is hoping that college will mark a new start for him, while at the same time he is lured into pledging for his brother Brett (Jonas) fraternity Phi Sigma Mu not knowing what awaits him as him and the other pledges are put through the hazing of “Hell Week”
Review: Opening to the so called brothers of Phi Sigma Mu shirtless chanting and jeering in slow motion at some event we can’t see as the camera remains fixed on their grotesque and monstrous expressions, though knowing what lies ahead we can pretty much guarantee by the end of the film that it was something horrible being inflicted on one of the pledges. Like with “Spring Breakers” this is the latest dark project taken on by a former house of mouse member in this case Nick Jonas. Jonas for those not into top 40 pop music, especially that backed by Disney was formerly part of a pop trio with his two older brothers imaginatively titled “The Jonas Brothers” who peddled that non offensive, Christian tinged pop rock that Disney loves to churn out. As with all the former House of Mouse members there of course reaches a time when they become to old (read replaced) and its normally around this time we get to see them taking on the more darker project as we saw with Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez taking on “Spring Breakers” and this film could essentially be viewed as the same kind of career move for Jonas.
Based on the memoir of the same name by Brad Land of his experiences as a Fraternity pledge the film paints a grim portrait of the often very real hazing which happens during the so called “Hell Week” which Fraternities and Sororities put their potential new members or pledges through a week of continuous humiliation and abuse to weed out the weaker pledges in the hope that they’d quit. Its this week that forms the main focus for the film with Brad and the other potential pledges refered to here as “Goats” are thrown unwittingly into the process spearheaded by the intimidating pledge master Dixon (Picking) whose role seems solely to find ever more disguising and humiliating trials to put these Goats through all the while being fully backed up by his frat brothers who often join in with the taunting and general celebration of the misery being inflicted on these potential new members.
The fact that hazing is outlawed by the student handbook seems to do little to faze the members as shown by Dixon reciting the passage to the pledges while at the same time openly mocking the text as “pussy shit” while his inspiration for this torture he’s inflicting on the group seems to be largely steemed from a desire to make up for his own Hell Week which is hinted at by him mentioning a former brother putting out a cigarette on his ass. At the same time its clear that the saftey and mental well being is of little concern to any of the members as seen with some of the trials which often are more based on the general amusement of the brothers than any of them stopping to think for a moment if they should be doing any of these things, while hiding behind ideals of masculinity and brotherhood.
The hazing scenes are especially rough to watch right from the start as the goats are herded (no pun intended) into the basement of the frat house where they are stripped, tied up and forced to drink until they throw up, while another is locked in a cage where he is urinated on and taunted by the brothers who once they have tired of the goats force them out of the basement by beating and slapping them leaving the goats to collect their clothes from the paddling pool they have been tossed into…..and this is day one. From here things only get progressively more grim and disgusting with the climax of these coming from the group being forced to mud wrestle for the brothers, before being forced to drink a whole keg between them or risk being forced to have sex with an actual goat. The scenes which follow being far from the most pleasant I’ve had to sit through as the group struggle to empty the keg leaving us with an aftermath of them essentially broken by the ordeal, covered in a mixture of mud and vomit while one member vainly tries to complete the task. Its really just a matter or when rather than if when all of this will go horribly wrong.
So what inspires someone to put themselves through this? Well seemingly the promise of popularity, sex and an open invitation to parties wrapped up in the illusion of brotherhood is all it takes for someone to put themselves through this ordeal as the dangerous allure of popularity once more makes itself known here. Many of this group of pledge are self confessed nerdy kids who never fit in at school and now see the fraternity life as a way to finally find the popularity many of them so badly crave with Brad’s room mate gleefully rejoicing that he had sex for the first time because he was associated with the frat when Brad attempts to get him to quit.
Outside of the frat drama we have the subplot about Brad getting over his assault we witness at the start of the film, which soon boils down to him looking at the selfie of his bruised and bloody face at various points in the film while never being fully resolved despite being called to identify his attackers in a line up it just all feels very undeveloped much like the ending which itself just film like the film had just stopped than reaching any kind of conclusion.
While the cast are all good in their various roles the acting is still nothing remarkable and while the material might be dark for someone like Nick Jonas to be associated with but at the same time his character while participating at first soon becomes the sole voice of reason in this storm of madness and testosterone. Yes its admirable seeing what some of the actors put themselves through in the film but that alone does not make for a good performance.
A grim viewing experience made only the more shocking to know that these kinds of things are actually taking place, let alone that some bozo is going to see the film as some kind of endorsement of the hazing tradition the same way that they missed that “Animal House” was making fun of the Frats rather than celebrating them as often misconstrued. This is the sort of film to file alongside Larry Clarke’s “Bully” or Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” especially as its unlikely your be rushing back for a second viewing.