Sydney Film Festival Review: Goat (USA, 2016)

I’ve got to get one thing out of the way before I can get on with the rest of this review – who would have thought that Nick Jonas was such a good actor. I mean seriously, I’ve heard nothing of this guy since his Disney starring, purity ring wearing days but he completely knocks it out of the park here as a Frat bro becoming increasingly disenchanted by the hazing loving ways of his fellow college buddies. Okay, now let’s move on.

Goat is a brutal, violent and often nauseating depiction of hazing in American fraternities, a tradition that is increasingly at odds with the morals of modern society. These events are seen through the eyes of college student Brad (Ben Schnetzer), who is eager to join his college roommate in becoming a pledge of the frat house of which his brother Brett (Jonas) is already a member. And so he finds himself becoming a ‘goat’, the not so affectionate name for the young men who find themselves leaving dignity at the door and doing all sorts of disturbing things to follow this ‘rite of passage’ (as some characters in the film call it) and become a frat bro for life.

Based on Brad Land’s 2004 memoir of the same name, Goat is a masterpiece study of the male psyche. Slowly building to the events of ‘hell week’ – a week in which the pledges are forced to take part in all sorts of depraved events – Goat becomes more and more like a horror film, as the audience is firmly planted within the depraved action. Brad’s experience is only made more horrific by the events that kick start the film, where he is accosted and beaten senseless following a party by two young strangers. The recovery of his injuries, both physical and psychological, takes centre stage in the narrative, and only serves to make his hell week experience and acceptance of its normalcy all the more frightening.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, the quiet moments between the two brothers are highlights of the film, and cement Schetzer and Jonas’ great acting chops. At the end of the day this is a tale of brothers, both blood related and ‘frat related’, and Schnetzer and Jonas have a great chemistry on screen which makes the relationship all the more realistic. Seeing Brett’s growing struggle with his frat brothers around their treatment of the pledges leads to some of the more tense scenes in the film, and the young, largely no-name actors handle these with great aplomb.

Special mention must also go to James Franco, who has a film-stealing cameo as an ex-frat member who briefly appears to party with the new pledges. Also serving as an executive producer on Goat, Franco’s appearance brings some much-needed humour to the film, whilst also aiding the film’s thesis on the absurdity of the frat process.

Though it may be tough to watch at times, Goat is an enthralling film that had me gripped from start to finish. I can’t recommend it enough.

Rating score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Goat screened as part of Sydney Film Festival.