Directed by Andrew Neel
Released September 23, 2016
Hazing is an unfortunate reality in today’s college world. Those who don’t rush fraternities or sororities (like this reviewer) might be spared, but the level to which people are humiliated and in many cases physically and emotionally harmed is truly disturbing. Those experiences are further compounded when a person who is the victim of hazing has gone through a previous trauma whose horrors are dredged up again every time some seemingly playful or harmless torment occurs. “Goat” dramatizes the experiences of author Brad Land, based on his 2005 memoir, as he survives a vicious attack and then relives it over and over again as he rushes his brother’s fraternity.
Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is first seen with a buttoned-up shirt and glasses, seeming far more composed and together than everyone else at the college party he is attending. He and his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas) function well together in that setting, but Brad makes the mistake of leaving the party alone and offering two strangers a ride home. Brad is brutally beaten and his car is stolen, and after a long recovery, he decides to begin school at the same college his brother attends, where the first and only activity option is to join the legendary fraternity Brett has already pledged.
This film assembles a deeply disturbing compilation of upsetting and demeaning pranks pulled by those who have survived their own “hell week” on the unsuspecting and all-too-willing freshmen desperate to join their ranks. The severe assault of highly off-putting events isn’t worth describing here, and its miserable nature is no fault of the film’s since all of this actually happens, whether or not it was specifically endured by the real Land. Where the film doesn’t work as well is in its constant definition of Brett as a friendly upperclassman who seems to object to the way things are done from the very start, making him little more than a bystander to his brother’s suffering.
Schnetzer is a great actor who delivered a terrific performance as the lead of the ensemble in “Pride.” Here, he puts on an American accent and grows his hair out to hide behind an aura of nervousness and nerdiness that doesn’t allow his portrayal to be as authentic as it could be. Pop star Jonas, whose casting in the film surely raised some eyebrows, is surprisingly well-suited for his role, even if it’s not particularly deep. This film shouldn’t be seen by anyone who is still traumatized by their own experiences being hazed, and for those not as familiar with the process, what the film accomplishes and concludes about its nature and effects isn’t really worth watching the misery either.