6 out of 10
Ben Schnetzer as Brad
Directed by Andrew Neel
Usually when a movie plotline centers around a fraternity, the Greek system is glorified to the highest degree. Images of boys doing shots of liquor, young girls excitedly taking off their clothes, and a plethora of intoxicated kids all packed in together tightly, covering every last square inch of a house party typically fill the screen, making life as a Kappa Kappa Gamma or a Zeta Tau Alpha seem like a wickedly cool neon-coated dream come true. Rarely do these films show what these kings of campus had to go through to get to this moment. It’s not as thrilling to watch young men being hazed and belittled for their peers’ amusement. It’s not as exciting to see people being broken down into insecure parts and rebuilt as nameless members of one complete elite society.
That’s not the case when it comes to Goat.
In writer David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Undertow) and director Andrew Neel’s film, fraternities are put on blast, and all of their innermost hazing rituals are judged harshly. Just as boot camp intimidates once independent people into feeling more like maggots and rebuilds them as identically military members willing to die for a cause. Goat reveals how frats use the same tactics to crush spirits and break hearts in order to turn these young men into soldiers willing to put their cause before themselves.
It all starts late one night when Brad leaves his brother’s frat party to head back home, only to be stopped by a stranger looking for a ride. Although reluctant, the boy agrees, mostly because he’s such a nice guy. However, his kindness is taken as weakness by this passenger and his last minute additional friend, as he is then taken out to the middle of nowhere, robbed, brutally beaten, and abandoned. Brad ultimately recovers from his physical injuries, but when that time of year rolls around to get back to school and stop pledging, he finds a slight hesitation in his step forward, as the rigorous bullying enforced by the frat tradition pulls him begrudgingly into the past.
Goat provides a fascinating peek into the glossed-over world of Greek life, and the ever-present violence that goes hand in hand with joyous celebrations of brotherhood. It may seem like residing in a house bound together by the letters above their front door means that these gentlemen will be living by some sort of honorable code, but this no holds barred look at the life of boys who are to enlist in the system suggests otherwise. Of course, it displays the signs of signing on – buckets of never-ending beer, respect from one’s classmates, acknowledgements from well-to-do businesses looking for someone fresh out of college to her, and dozens upon dozens of hot girls looking for a good time – but it also highlights the excruciating rite of passage that also highlights the excruciating journey that each person must agree to endure before he gets the keys to the kingdom. That’s what makes this movie stand apart from the pack. All Brad wanted to do was forget about his assault, impress Brett, and gain acceptance. Instead, he finds himself forced to relive the most traumatic moment of his entire life, day after day, when he is subjected to similar acts of abuse, humiliation and degradation from the men who would be so bold as to call themselves his brothers.
Of course this is not a perfect film. There are some issues with the film, the biggest of which is probably the casting. The audience is supposed to side with Brad and feel sorry for him after his attack, but his character probably would’ve come across as a bit more sympathetic and relatable if they had chosen someone slightly smaller and less athletic to play the role. This is especially true because we’re supposed to believe that he is the younger brother of Nick Jonas, who is clearly younger and smaller than his “sibling.” Also, the best part of the film is during Hell Week, with tensions at their highest during this portion, before slowing back down to a dull roar and dragging for the remainder of the film, until it jolts back into action towards the end. It makes you wonder why the whole movie didn’t focus more on this moment in time, or at least end with the final moments of this particular hazing ritual. This rings especially true when a boy suffers a serious injury towards the finale, an event which feels like it would’ve been much more appropriate during Hell Week.
In the end, the message of Goat succeeds despite its casting issues and pacing problems. Its engrossing portrayal of the dark underbelly of Greek life make it both memorable and important, as it sparks a very necessary discussion about what truly goes on behind those column-incased walls. Universities would have you believe that hazing practices are a thing of the past, but, as the film shows, if you dig a little deeper beneath the surface, one will find that there’s still much work to be done when it comes to the treatment of these young men and the progression of socially-acceptable violence in modern-day society itself.