By Jason Abdow
If I could describe “Goat” simply, I would say it is like “Neighbors” but instead of comedy you get brutal displays of hazing. As a college student, I was curious to see this film, which claimed to tell what some boys have to go through before they can pledge to a fraternity. The fact that it was based off of Brad Land’s autobiography made the story seem all the more real.
The film follows Land (Ben Schnetzer) as he starts his freshman year of college and pledges for his brother’s (Nick Jonas) fraternity, all the while suffering from PTSD that was caused by an assault. It is a heavy subject matter, and director Andrew Neel knows how to make it effective. He utilizes plenty of close ups to make everything that happens to these characters feel intimate and personal.
The various hazing scenes that take place are definitely where this movie stood out to me. Seeing the fraternity brothers get a sadistic joy out of essentially torturing their ‘goats’ (the term used to describe new recruits), and seeing how far the goats would go to be associated with the frat was truly disturbing. The film does a great job of letting you know why all of these guys want to be a part of this frat so bad. The parties are fun, the girls are attractive, and the brothers are cool, so of course they are going to want to join. These scenes are not for those with a weak stomach as the rituals become increasingly disgusting while remaining grounded in reality. I was actually amazed to see a handful of people leave my screening during the first of these scenes.
Besides for the genuinely tense tone that the movie stands on, “Goat” also benefits from the fantastic performances from its cast. Ben Schnetzer proves that he is definitely a young actor to look out for. He gives a generally reserved and really adds plenty of nuance to a role lesser actors would have overdone. He is a clear star and the best actor in this entire film. Nick Jonas delivers similarly great work, really selling the arch that his character makes over the course of the film. You can tell he cares for his brother and is sensitive when seeing him getting abused, and by the end of the film you completely understand where he is coming from and he becomes very likable. James Franco essentially has a cameo as one of the frat’s grown up members, but he still manages to have fun with the role, coming across as the kind of guy who struggled to grow up after college.
The problems with “Goat” present themselves at the end, when the movie seems to not know how to wrap up. The conclusion is nice and ties up all its loose ends, but it lacks a real climax and just seems to coast until its abrupt ending. I feel like with some re-editing and writing, this final act could have concluded much more effectively.
These problems can probably be overlooked by most, meaning those who can stomach this will really enjoy this film. “Goat” tells a real life story in a way that feels personal, just as a biopic should, while also delivering strong messages about the importance of genuine brotherhood and the dangers of peer pressure. It is definitely important for college students to witness since there is plenty for them to get out of it.