SIFF 2016 Review: Goat

Goat (2016)

dir. Andrew Neel

written by: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Mike Roberts

starring: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas


2.5 out of 4 stars

Sundance premiere Goat garnered attention due to its brutal portrayal of fraternity hazing in college Greek life.  Having participated in two fraternities in college, this subject matter intrigues me due to the non-frat-like behavior in the groups of my college experience.  One was a co-ed, community service-based, no hazing policy, dry group; the other was the “secret” honorary made all the more ridiculous by the “saviors of the state” schlock touted at the initiation.  Based on the memoir Goat by Brad Land, the movie covers the hazing experienced by a college freshman (Ben Schnetzer as Brad) pledging his older brother Brett’s (Nick Jonas) fraternity.


Reading like an adaptation of Michael Kimmel’s Guyland, Andrew Neel directs a movie about the perils faced by men attempting to assimilate.  Brad and his fellow pledges are surrounded by psychopathic “big brothers” hell bent on initiating these men through degrading, abusive behavior and unhealthy amounts of competitive drinking.  As he approaches graduation, older brother Brett begins to acknowledge the needless abuse heaped upon these impressionable men.


Leads Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas proved mismatched in their ability to pull off their roles.  Last seen in Pride, his casting has taken an interesting direction.  Pulling off the PTSD from a pre-college assault and the dedicated pledge position, Schnetzer is convincing in his delivery.  Unfortunately, Nick Jonas is less convincing as the concerned older brother.  The internalized shame from years of perpetrating these initiation schemes is addressed in a scattered manner.  Jonas manages the anger, but the caring portions are lost in meaningless stares.


Little of particular substance occurs, and the film feels like an after school special for the college scene.  They don’t shy from any of the subject matter.  Most of hell week is brutal to watch, and the masculinity contests turn into homoerotic spectacles.  An expanded exploration of the damaged brotherhood of the fraternity would be appreciated.  When the incessantly inebriated Chance (Gus Halper) confesses his hatred for most of his brothers in the midst of their debauchery reveals the lack of connection within their group.  Missing the societal significance of this hazing and focusing on a personal story lost much of the wide reaching importance that could have been found in Goat, but the story delivered does impress with its horrifying physicality.


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