Penned by David Gordon Green and with a cameo performance from James Franco, Andrew Neel’s hazing drama Goat has impeccable indie credentials.
Beastie Boysby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
An extended slow-motion sequence of a pack of young men with naked torsos, silent, though they are clearly shouting or maybe screaming, opens Goat. Then it’s straight into the first of many substance-fuelled, riotous parties. Shy Brad (an excellent Ben Schnetzer) leaves early and, through his kindness and inability to say no to two strangers, is violently mugged and severely beaten – a traumatic episode that continues to haunt him when he starts at an old-established university at the start of the academic year six months later. His older brother Brett (Nick Jonas, one of the Jonas Brothers band) is already there and he guides him through his initiation into a prestigious campus fraternity, based around alcohol excess, drunken parties, and surviving a week of hell as a rite of passage to entry into the fraternity that’s intended to build the bonds of brotherhood.
The film is a terrifying look at this phenomenon – it may be an American thing, but universally it’s about out-of-control male machismo, the sadistic pack instinct, sadistic ‘hazing’, and its repercussions on vulnerable individuals. In their initiation week, Brad and the other hopefuls – the Goats – including a natural victim, his nerdy roommate Will (Danny Flaherty), are put through grotesque and obscene indignities by their tormentors that are increasingly disgusting and cruel. Since his mugging, Brad has changed and become more aggressive, but even so, both he and his brother increasingly start to question the unthinking violence and cruelty they are getting involved in and the bond of real brothers kick in.
Goat creates suspense, disgust and amazement. It has a wonderful central performance from Schnetzer as his character comes of age through the film’s three acts, the prolonged initiation rites being its centre, and a scene-stealing cameo from James Franco as the visiting now-adult frat boy who just can’t let go. The writer and director is Andrew Neel (King Kelly) (along with David Gordon Green and Brad Land whose memoirs the film is based on), whose short, Initiation, also dealt with male rites of passage, this time in the Bronx. It’s resonant, thought-provoking and memorable.
Goat is now showing at the Sundance Film Festival London