When you think of college or teen movies, most of the names that come to mind are slapstick comedies like 22 Jump Street and American Pie. These films bring you easy laughs and take no effort to watch. Goat takes a different, more serous approach. It offers a darker and harsher look into American college life.
Since we don’t have fraternity houses in the UK and I never personally experienced “pledges”, I can’t help but wonder if hazings in real life can really get as degrading as they are shown to be in Goat. The pain and torment inflicted on the freshmen in the film is SCARY. At first, however, the film consists of party scenes and boozy students going about their daily lives on campus. But as soon as we move into Hell-Week, the Phi Sigma Mu fraternity pledges are rounded up and the violence comes thick and fast.
Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is one of the young students trying to break into the fraternity, under the guidance of his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas). A fraternity, though, is probably the last place Ben should want to find himself because he’s been recovering from a horrible injury that has taken a serious knock to his confidence. But in the name of brotherhood, Ben tries to prove himself to Brett and the other guys by taking part in the initiation trials.
Goat rattles your comfort zone as Ben and his fellow pledges are put through humiliating rituals, like being blindfolded, force-fed bananas and getting non-stop verbal abuse. At times it’s intolerable but the film is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s old-fashioned exploitation where evoking disgust is the film’s main goal. The abuse is relentless, but make it to the end and you’ll see the film has a lot to say about how “manliness” and “toughness” can become toxic.
Brett is torn between helping his brother and being a loyal member of the gang. Like Ben, he doesn’t want to appear less of a man and it’s very interesting to see the brothers clash with the other guys in the fraternity. Apart from the early moments of the film, frat culture is shown as torturous and unforgiving. It’s only when things go too far that Ben and Brett take a long hard look at themselves.
I would suggest watching Goat only if you like gritty movies set around dark stories. Like most of the films covered on this site, you should go into it with an open mind. At its core, Goat has taken college drama tropes and made them sinister yet more interesting. It’s wild, disturbing, fascinating, and a sharp critique of the boys-will-be-boys culture.
Director: Andrew Neel
Writers: David Gordon Green (screenplay), Brad Land (memoir)
Stars: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Gus Halper
Distributor: The Film Arcade, Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 96 minutes.