Andrew Neel directs Goat, a visceral glimpse into the world of frat boy hazing starring Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas. The film is an unsettling and relentlessly intense examination of masculinity and brotherhood that showcases its two young leads as phenomenal talents.
After being devastatingly assaulted Brad (Schnetzer) enrols to join his older brother Brett (Jonas)’s fraternity. The brother’s relationship is strained by the pressures of the humiliating initiation rituals that Brad and his freshman cohorts must endure.
Neel’s direction strikes a fine balance between delicately observant – almost fly on the wall style closeness to our protagonists – and feeling intense and invasive in its stark depictions of violence, sex and humiliation. The result is a heady mix that gives the film the unflinching style which makes it so powerful – especially the more brutal scenes which linger with us for some time after. Opening with a slowed down and silent depiction of a group of muscled frat-boys chanting, screaming and rippling pectorals we get a bold insight into the testosterone-fuelled aesthetic we are soon to experience throughout Goat. However before this glimpse into frat-life and hazing, Goat sets us an unflinching attack which triggers Brad’s desire to join in the first place.
A house-party scene introduces us to Brad and Brett. The more confident Brett tries coke, watches a threesome before taking a girl off – exemplified in a raunchy three second sex scene bound to have Jonas fans panting. Whilst Brett experiences this excess, Brad opts to head home but gets pressured into giving two strangers a lift – leading to his subsequent attack, which is a brutal and deeply uncomfortable watch with Neel taking that uncomfortable closeness a step further. After this attack, Goat’s narrative dives into these complex themes of masculinity and brotherhood.
Schnetzer does an incredibly job capturing the damage caused in a performance that is both dramatically and physically emotive. Using the spectre of this attack throughout the narrative helps us understand why Brad submits to this extreme hazing later. Neel cleverly explores the blurring lines between Brad’s initial attack and the hazing that the freshman receive in the name of brotherhood as part of their initiation to Phi Sigma. Although this examination into frat culture does not delve much deeper than humiliating initiation rituals (locked in dog cages, urinated on etc.), Goat still provides a lingering effect that has the ability to trouble viewers and their perceptions of masculinity and its definitions. Readings about homoerotic repression can also be decoded from Neel’s film – particularly in the relationships within the frat – when does masculine bonding veer into another territory?
Goat is composed of a mix of various exterior visuals from rural American country exteriors – lakeside sequences of Brad and Brett bonding outside the frat/party dynamic make for a pleasant contrast to the neon-soaked, high-octane party scenes or the darkened frat torture. Ethan Palmer shoots the film with a hazy realism that puts a picturesque slant on an often disturbing/unsettling tone.
Jonas is excellently cast as Brad, the more confident and reactionary of the pair, capturing the struggle to come to terms with his brother’s attack. The actor also conveys the moral struggled faced by Brad – desperate to support his brother’s recovery but torn by the humiliation he and his frat-mates subject them to. James Franco, who is on producing duties here, makes an amusingly obnoxious small appearance as one of the graduated frat-boys/men.
Goat is an unsettling watch that delves into the grim realities of frat hazing. Neel’s direction is unrelentingly tense and unflinching, with further impact brought to Goat through Jonas and Schnetzer’s convincingly unrestrained performances.
[rating=5] | Andrew McArthur
Drama | USA, 2016 | Sundance London 2016 | 18| 3rd June 2016 (UK) | Dir.Andrew Neel | James Franco, Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Austin Lyon, Virginia Gardner, Chase Crawford, Jake Picking