“Goat” is a well-written, well-acted, well-shot ode to the fact that Greek life needs to curl up in a little ball and die.
Directed by little-known indie talent Andrew Neel and starring Ben Schnetzer in his third film of 2016 alone, “Goat” follows freshman Brad Land as he attempts to pledge a fraternity, with the added wrinkle that his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas) is already a member.
Brad is accompanied by his roommate, Will (Daniel Flaherty), and several other pledges as a group of white men spend the better part of an hour bullying, abusing and flat-out assaulting them. Having never pledged, I cannot speak to the validity of this film’s portrayal of rushing fraternities as a haze of alcohol, beatings, verbal abuse and a litany of other mildly-horrifying conditions.
There were points where I was genuinely physically repulsed at how vile the happenings were, but the low point came from the namesake of the film. You may think that the title is a reference to the fact that pledges are apparently referred to as “goats,” but no.
The fraternity members bring in an actual goat and threaten the pledges that if they don’t perform their disgusting tasks well, they shall perform the unspeakable with their mascot.
To nicely set the tone for this story about toxic masculinity, the film opens with a scene of two ostensibly drunk women making out in front of several white dudes getting hornier than a bull the day before castration time.
Then we get to the framing device of the movie. Brad, presumably thinking with his testicles instead of his brain, decides to give a couple complete strangers a ride into the middle of nowhere. They then proceed to mug him, steal his car and beat him senseless.
And here we reach the big problem with “Goat” — its lack of focus. When it looks at the story of Phi Sigma Mu, its semi-psychotic members and the wide-eyed pledges, it excels. But whenever Captain Narrative attempts to steer the ship toward the Brad Got Beaten Up plot, the ship crashes into an iceberg named Complete Tonal-Failure.
Believe me, when it decides to focus, “Goat” is an effective little film about how pride and tradition among these organizations can lead to pain, rather abysmal examples of human behavior and ultimately death.
I appreciate that the movie doesn’t defer to cliché by including things like a “battle-of-the-fraternities” plot, which is about as useful to film history as a cancerous tumor is to a liver. But “Goat” has a really bad habit of having either no payoff to its subplots or not having good ones when it does.
That’s not to say “Goat” is bad — far from it. In what has been a pretty boring year for cinema, a pretty good blackest-of-the-black comedy is a welcome addition. If it had just focused on the pledge plot for the entire runtime, it might have even been great.