The stereotypical fraternity house has been explored through a wide array of different films and television shows. They have become known for their extreme parties and hazing initiations, which include quite shocking forms of physical and psychological humiliation. This primarily takes place during Hell Week, where the newest pledges must endure an entire week of shock-inducing treatment. This has been reduced in recent years due to colleges taking injuries - and the occasional death - more seriously. Brad Land has shown this perspective in a memoir that exposes fraternity culture and the effects that it could have.
Still dealing with the effects of a terrifying assault, 19-year-old Brad (Ben Schnetzer) decides to enroll in the same fraternity as his older brother (Nick Jonas). The life of being a part of a brotherhood seems incredibly appealing. When Hell Week begins, the relationship between the two brothers and Brad's ability to cope are put to the test.
The film features two separate plots that run parallel to one another, which ultimately collide. Brad is forced to tackle personal troubles, as he confronts the psychological aftermath of the brutal mugging that he endured. Meanwhile, he's determined to join the fraternity that his older brother currently belongs to. Goat approaches its subject matter in an interesting fashion, as it tells a slightly different coming-of-age story than most films out of the Sundance Film Festival. There have been features on fraternity hazing in the past, but this has a more clear message on this collegiate culture of masculinity. The idea of enduring humiliating and occasionally painful activities to gain acceptance from a group that may someday be considered brothers is a dangerous one. Its more subtle themes of machismo are strong, although the shock value from the party sequences are what will certainly receive the most attention. They become progressively more crazy throughout the film's running time, as it becomes difficult to look away from the screen, no matter how brutal their treatment as pledged becomes.
Speaking of the feature's use of parallelism, the theme of brotherhood is yet another use of it. Manufactured brotherhood and true family are often directly compared, as a wedge is placed in between Brad and his older brother, Brett. When Hell Week proves to be a lot after enduring a traumatic mugging, Brett begins to develop serious concern for Brad. However, this translates into a resentful relationship. While this is an admirable effort, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Goat has been described as an after school special with an extra amount of vomit, which isn't far from the truth. The biggest moments of drama are often thwarted by the film trying to pull emotion out of its audience that it hasn't earned. While we care for the overall well-being of Brad through Hell Week, there's no point of emotional gratification. By the time the credits begin rolling, this proves to be a rather glaring issue.
The film's focus is clearly held on Brad and Brett's relationship, although the lack of depth given to those involved in Hell Week is rather detrimental to the film. A large portion of the running time is given to these hazing rituals, yet the audience is never given much of a reason to care, other than the fact that Brad wants to be accepted. Other than Will (Danny Flaherty), their fellow pledges aren't given any characterization whatsoever. The same can be said about the leaders of the fraternity, which feels like a serious missed opportunity to expand upon this universe. A slightly longer running time to develop such relationships would have considerably benefited the film.
Since Goat relies so heavily upon the relationship between Brad and Brett, the central performances are absolutely critical to the film's success. Ben Schnetzer delivers a commendable presentation as Brad. While the emotional sequences could have been much more impactful, this is no fault of Schnetzer. He's consistently empathetic and believable throughout the feature's running time. Meanwhile, Nick Jonas portrays his older brother, Brett. While he's better than most would anticipate, he's clearly outacted by Schnetzer in every scene that they share together. Nevertheless, they're convincing enough as brothers to allow viewers to go on this crazy ride. However, the hyperbole is real when hearing festival audiences discuss James Franco's cameo. This scene adds to the film's message of masculinity, although Franco doesn't necessarily add anything special to it.
The theme of masculinity in fraternity culture is a fascinating one that has become a part of college life for many students each and every year. There have been numerous news stories regarding hazing rituals that have resulted in the tragic death of some students seeking acceptance and brotherhood. This makes for a potentially powerful and sobering piece of filmmaking, although Goat peaks with the shock value of its party sequences. While it attempts to dissect masculinity in its dark dramatic elements, it ultimately feels more like an after school special. It becomes more preachy and less emotionally gratifying. Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas provide solid performances, although that isn't quite enough to elevate the film into anything particularly remarkable. Goat is consistently engaging, albeit more flat than it intends to be. Rent it.