Goatfilm UK release date TBC
A crowd of shirtless young men, their faces contorted into something resembling hatred – or maybe fear – move in slow motion, egging on an unseen attacker. A chilling, synthy soundtrack accompanies them.
This is the electrifying start to Goat. Based on true events, the film turns its eye upon the grim realities of the American fraternity system. We meet Brad, a teenager (played with skilful reserve by Ben Schnetzer) about to join his elder, cooler brother at university. But when Brad is the victim of a vicious, unprovoked attack after a summer party, the appeal of frat-life wanes.
Once Brad is initiated as a ‘pledge’ at the much coveted Phi Sigma Mu he becomes victim to the tradition of ‘hazing’ – degrading initiation rites designed to test pledges’ resolve, and manhood. Gradually, the trauma lines between that brutal and unprovoked attack and these teenage ‘hijinx’ start to blur.
What Goat does brilliantly is place its audience directly in the line of fire. As with 2013’s The Riot Club, we are first invited to the party, then forced to watch as it all goes horribly wrong. And, like The Riot Club, (in which Schnetzer also starred) it’s a claustrophobic picture of white male privilege. One telling moment sees James Franco, who gives a brief cameo as a frat-house veteran, raise a toast to “the greatest group of gentlemen the world has ever known!” The next shot sees Franco snoring, vomit-drenched on a sofa, as his wife calls his cell-phone.
We wonder why these pledges partake in such a degree of masochism. They are urinated upon, forced to conduct sexual acts by boys elder than them (one stand out performance sees frat-leader Chance played with charismatic finesse by Gus Halper). Everything verges on horrific and illegal – molestation and assault commonplace and cavalier – but Neel repeatedly pulls us back from the brink. After a particularly brutal weekend of hazing, one pledge says, simply: "That’s just how it is.” This is the film’s dilemma: either accept the system – or find yourself locked out of the party.
Neel brilliantly illustrates the sense of Stockholm Syndrome within this bullying brotherhood: not just for his characters but for his audience. When the pledges make it through (one scene sees Brad hoisted, mud covered, on to the shoulders of his fellow pledges) we get a little surge of elation. Surely this all has to be worth it?
There are certainly questionable moments: at times we wonder whether the cast and filmmakers are enjoying themselves a little too much, immersing themselves in fraternity life; and some sexist lines hang a little too ambiguously in the air. The film's second half also loses momentum when we realise this bullying violence is now the film's daily grind. But these are small criticisms of a work that is at once grotesque and realistic, a violent observation of mob mentality.
Andrew Neel's Goat may not be to everyone's tastes, but it is a terrifying and ever memorable journey to the depths of hell and back.
And so, it seems, is college.
|What||Goat, film review: Berlin 2016 "Masochism and machismo in Animal House"|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
01 Feb 16 – 01 Apr 16, Times vary according to cinema
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|