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Director and co-writer Andrew Neel's psychological frat horror "Goat" is a film about flesh. About the resiliency and vulnerability of human flesh; its fragilities, agonies and ecstasies. About the drastically different ways in which flesh meets flesh, to varying ends. About what it sounds like when flesh is slapped, pummeled, caressed, pulped. Based on the memoir by Brad Land, written with Mike Roberts and David Gordon Green, the story itself is about trauma, systems of power and the emotional terrors that go on behind closed fraternity doors, manifested in corporeal humiliation and control.
Ben Schnetzer stars as Brad, a sensitive young man on the cusp of college life when he is brutally assaulted and robbed by a pair of toughs after a party. Neel presents the beating in all of its sickening quietude, just three men on a country road accompanied by the sound of fist meeting face. It's an event that alters Brad's life in unexpected ways.
Initially resistant, Brad finds a comfort in the uber-masculine brotherhood of Phi Sig, the frat to which his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas) belongs. The incessant teasing, threatening and emasculation is triggering, but he finds a solace in the "if we have to fight, they gotta go through all of us" mentality.
That comfort is soon washed away in a river of beer, mud and vomit as Hell Week commences, and Neel takes us inside the secretive horrors of the American fraternity hazing ritual.
What he shows us is power gone mad, the whims of barely boys who were humiliated and terrorized only a year prior, twisted into a bizarre, almost sexual ritual of sadism, domination and submission.
Eventually, one starts to feel a bit, "I get it, I went to college," about the detailed proceedings, which escalate into torture and injury among other psychological manipulations. There's an ethnographic quality in the presentation of the hazing that feels as if it's meant for demonstrating the process to someone completely unaware of frats. Neel uses handheld camerawork to underscore the faux-documentary style.
With events escalating to such an extreme level of violence and torment, the climax and subsequent descent is wrapped up swiftly, and bloodily, leaving the audience without a sense of complete satisfaction. Nothing is wrapped up easily, but for all the build up toward this impossible boiling point of drunken teen testosterone, the come down is a bit disappointing
"Goat" wouldn't be as strong as it is without the strength of Schnetzer's lead performance, which provides the emotional anchor around which the rest of the film orbits. Every flinch and flicker is loaded, as he portrays a young man who attempts to harden his body and psyche in order to protect himself from the harshness of the world around him. It's a devastating and nuanced performance, as Brad vacillates between dude bro posturing, performing manliness for his brothers, while reckoning with his own trauma and victimization. "Goat" takes us down the rabbit hole of the hallowed, horrific halls of fraternity life, and fortunately, the film offers us an exit.
3 out of 4 stars
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, James Franco, Gus Halper, Danny Flaherty
Directed by Andrew Neel
Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes
°2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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