Thursday, September 22, 2016

The vicious side of college life

 Fraternity hazing may be an easy target, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't become the subject of a cautionary tale about uncontrolled cruelty on college campuses. Director Andrew Neel's Goat is just such a movie. Neel begins his story when local thugs attack a high school senior (Ben Schnetzer), beating him almost senseless. Time passes and Schnetzer's Brad heals, but he heads for his first year in college with a lingering case of post-traumatic stress. Neel contrasts the random cruelty Brad suffered in his hometown with the organized humiliations orchestrated by the fraternity Brad pledges. Brad's older brother (Nick Jonas) -- a senior at the same school -- urges his brother to join the frat. The promise, of course, is that friendship and social acceptance will follow the demeaning rigors of Hell Week. Increasingly, Neel focuses the drama on Jonas's Brett, a young man who begins to understand that his fraternity brothers are crossing the line between acceptable rites of initiation and behavior that -- in other contexts -- might qualify as criminal. Goat doesn't take us any place we haven't been before, but its message bears repeating. Neel and his young cast skillfully handle events that are intended to repulse -- and do. Consider Goat an antidote to recent hard-partying, frat-boy comedies such as 2014's Neighbors. Goat's not about college fun; it's about the torture some will endure in order not to feel socially ostracized.

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