Frat life on film has tended to revolve around the comedic, portraying a roughhouse, boys-will-be-boys culture where the cruelest acts have no real consequences.
Goat takes a different, more serious approach, and it’s a forceful indictment of the curdled masculinity that fuels some of the more extreme frat house behaviors that have made the news. In short, it’s no laughing matter.
The tone is set from the start in director Andrew Neel’s slo-mo title sequence with shots of shirtless young men screaming at some unseen victim. It’s a very effective precursor of what’s to come.
Into this world walks Brad (Ben Schnetzer, Snowden) a 19-year-old freshman whose easygoing demeanor belies the fact that he’s recovering from a severe trauma. A few months prior, he had been assaulted and badly beaten at a party. That he didn’t fight back still gnaws at him.
But he wants to throw himself into university life and please his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas), a respected fraternity brother. So, he decides to pledge despite what’s happened to him. But before he can be included in this brotherhood, he needs to survive the gauntlet of abuse and debasement that is hazing.
The cruelty is given extra power by the fact that much of this reportedly actually happened. David Gordon Green’s screenplay is based on real-life Brad Land’s memoir. It’s also helped by a strong ensemble cast much like last year’s Stanford Prison Experiment, another look at young, college men gone wild. (And Goat does focus on the treatment of men as women are mostly on the periphery.)
Schnetzer conveys the right amount of nervous bravery while Jonas — who has been applauded for roles in the TV series Kingdom and Scream Queens — continues to establish himself as a versatile actor.
James Franco, one of the film’s producers, makes a memorable cameo as an alumnus whose body may now reside in suburbia but whose heart has never moved out of the frat house. His baying, taunting presence is a chilling glimpse into the future for many of Brad’s tormentors.
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☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Andrew Neel
Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, James Franco
Rated: R (disturbing behavior involving hazing, strong sexual content and nudity, pervasive language, violence, alcohol abuse and some drug use)
Running time: 96 min.