Movie Review - Goat (2016)

Though released before Nocturnal Animals, this film plays with the same theme as that Tom Ford movie. A man drives out to the middle of nowhere with strangers in his car. He's basically carjacked and then physically threatened. He doesn't fight back and is hurt for it. The rest of the movie is all about the man then having to prove his masculinity, his toughness or his bravery. Instead of finding the strangers and getting retribution or revenge, which was the cliché in Nocturnal Animals, this movie has the protagonist transfer that proving masculinity or channeling it into college fraternity hazing.

Ben Schnetzer (Pride and Snowden) stars as Brad Land, a college student who decides to go to Brookman University where his brother attends. In fact, he also decides to pledge the same fraternity as his brother, Phi Sigma Mu. The movie focuses on Hell Week where he and a bunch of others are hazed or basically humiliated or tortured for days. Brad then has to deal with the aftermath because it's revealed that the hazing results in a death.

Nick Jonas (Kingdom and Scream Queens) co-stars as Brett Land, the older brother of Brad who pushes him to join the fraternity. He clearly loves his brother and wants to protect him, while being loyal to the fraternity. He embraces the party culture, but he starts to feel that the fraternity is going too far with the hazing. He starts to push back on it.

This movie feels like it shares a lot of DNA with The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015). It's all about the endurance of humiliating and torturous experiences of young men at the hands of their so-called peers. Written by David Gordon Greene and Andrew Neel & Mike Roberts, the particulars of the endurance and the experiences are the bulk of the film. The specific psychology of why the pledges would submit or go through this hazing is of major concern. However, the psychology of why the fraternity itself would engage in this abuse isn't.

It's reduced simply to it was done to me, so I'm going to do it to someone else. At one point, Brett asks or gets one of the hazing frat boys to ask what's the point. The movie, however, doesn't dive any deeper than that. The Pledge Master, named Dixon, played by Jake Picking, is very much like an army drill sergeant, but the goals and intentions of the army are very different than a college fraternity.

In an army, brotherhood and endurance of torture as well as following orders are important because an army deals with life-and-death situations literally in war zone areas. For that mindset to be applied in a college fraternity is ridiculous and is a gap that needed to be filled. The film identifies the gap but never tries to fill in that gap. The film never gives us much perspective of the hazing frat brothers or invite us into their heads.

James Franco (Milk and 127 Hours) has a brief role as Mitch, an older frat brother who now has a family who visits the frat house. His character could have provided some perspective, especially after the hazing death, but the film never goes back to him. It's a missed opportunity.

Directed by Andrew Neel, the movie barely offers any perspective or context. It remains mainly in Brad's point-of-view without much nuance into the issue. Of course, hazing is bad but there's no real exploration of it.

Rated R for hazing, sexual content, nudity, language, violence, alcohol abuse and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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