Goat – Review (Sundance Film Festival: London)

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A timely look at just what goes on in frat houses across America, Goat also manages to cover the subject of masculinity and the male psyche in the modern age.

19-year-old Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is just about to start his college career. His older brother Brett (Nick Jonas), is already settled in and the pair are enjoying a summer together, partying late into the night.

Brad decides to leave early and on his drive home, he is brutally attacked by two complete strangers. The assault leaves the student deeply shaken, with Brett also blaming himself for not being there for his brother.

After a while, Brad feels like he is ready to go to college and hopes to pledge to the same fraternity house as Brett and his friends. With the term ‘hazing’ being outlawed, instead the new recruits are subjected to ‘brotherhood tests’, which are seemingly different in name only.

Brad’s roommate also wants to pledge, but is the victim of even more severe abuse, leading to the brothers having to make a controversial decision that may well upset everyone around them.

The unnerving tone set by director Andrew Neel is akin to a teen horror film, and in many ways [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Goat does leave you feeling just as disturbed as if you have seen the characters on screen tortured and mutilated by an unspeakable evil.[/pullquote]

Just like in those movies though, you occasionally get the perverse sense that the victims are culpable for their own actions and that you would have a hard time not to cheer along to the violence, given the heady mix of youthful hormones and endless amounts of alcohol. Even an all-American fraternity can feel dangerously close to home.

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The ‘jocks’ stereotype is given a positive spin to begin with as Brad is offered the limitless support of his brother’s friends. We see the difficulties a young man faces when trying to discuss his anxieties and fears, an issue which has real world resonance, [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Schnetzer, who was extraordinary in Pride and also popped up in Warcraft earlier this year, is once again on top form.[/pullquote]

He plays Brad in a way that you can fully understand his actions, even when we can predict he is about to make a terrible mistake.

Also on surprisingly good form is Jonas, he of the Jonas Brothers musical fame. There is a real depth to his character and a warm screen presence especially when juxtaposed to his fellow pledges at college. We get a cameo from an elder statesman of the house at one point, and it’s great to see the added star power make an impact but not entirely unbalance the movie.

Goat makes for a great companion piece to Everybody Wants Some!!, which itself worked wonderfully with the standout film from Sundance London, Indignation. All three films capture that American higher education environment that we have seen so many times on screen before, but rarely explored to these lengths.

There are times when you wish the final act was actually just the start, with a sense that we are rushing towards a conclusion that could have been played out more and given more room to breath.

Overall though, Goat is a troubling and well-made drama with top-notch performances all round.

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About Cassam Looch

Cassam Looch has been watching films ever since his first trip to the cinema to catch Care Bears: The Movie and writing about them after a traumatic incident involving Moonwalker. If he's not hassling celebrities on the red carpet, he'll usually be found in the darkened screening rooms of Soho.

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