1 February 2017 | artmania90
At times it's intolerable
There is one review that describes GOAT as "Full Metal Jacket meets Animal House," which might be true if this movie were at all a comedy, or even a movie that examines the long-term effects of psychological abuse. There is a lot that Andrew Neel tries to say from the director's chair, but aside from a few interesting moments here and there, it seems like he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
The story follows Brad (Ben Schnetzer), the older brother of an all-around popular college boy (Brett, played by Nick Jonas). The film opens with Brad offering a ride to a set of strangers in the dead of night. He offers only because he believes they are coming from the same party. Right away the suspicions are tingling. A 20-minute ride down a deserted road finally has Brad come to terms with his situation: that he is mugged, beaten, and left for death in the middle of a field on the outskirts of town. His face is scarred, bruised, and his ease with strangers is never the same.
The movie is something I was not expecting, an odyssey into the mind of fear along the lines of a film Harmony Korine might admire. Where I was prepared for an dark yet entertaining film like Whiplash, we delve into the bowels of a film that more closely resembles "Spring Breakers," another hypnotic story with similar themes of the recklessness of millennials.
As the story falls into place, Brad finally decides to start college (we assume he took a year off after high school, since his younger brother is already well into his degree). Even before classes begin, Brad attends a Fall party at Brett's fraternity. The house is run- down, jammed, full of empty plastic cups and vomit in every corner. It's not so much a symbol as a right of passage: to belong to this house is to have a brotherhood that always has your back. James Franco (a producer on the film) has a brief but memorable scene as a former classmate who seems to hang around at the house a couple hours too long. Stuck in the past, he nonetheless shows Brad that this is an institution to which you can belong and be protected.
And so begins the odyssey. "Hell Week," as it's notoriously dubbed, is the hazing process where Brad, his roommate, and others, attempt to win the trust of the fraternity and eventually get "pinned" before the school year is out. The name is aptly given. Pledges are brought down to the basement where they are stripped, tied up, urinated on, and made to drink to the point of nausea. They drink cups of hot sauce. They are slapped. This is only day one.
The comparison to "Full Metal Jacket" would seem appropriate on a surface level, but the film rarely dives into the psyche of Brad, a boy who is torn between fear and commitment to pleasing his brother. Just as he allowed strangers to abuse him in the film's opening, so does he (poetically) allow it to happen again, this time for acceptance. In fact, maybe the abuse comes to represent a window into the connected world. Life is full of people who come and go, but what's the true test of a friendship if you literally go to hell and back.
The abuse, of course, is the highlight of the film, and the vivid scenes of torture are at times a bit overwhelming. We know going in that this is a movie based on actual events (events in which the death of a student was the culmination of the abuse), and as such each new scene comes with a heightened sense of dread: will this turn deadly? The violence is so relentless that I doubted I would even end this film with a positive thing to say about it. Filmmaking and production is one thing, but if you are making a movie about violence solely for the sake of violence, then what is the point?
I found Schnetzer's performance something that was both fragile and determined. While I at times failed to see motivation in certain scenes, his portrayal of Brad is fully-realized and the basic moral compass of the movie. From beginning to end, the story can be simplified to that of a boy who learns to no longer be afraid. It's a small arc, muddled in with a plot of hazing that does very little for the cause of the overall picture. On an intimate level, this was a story I could get behind. Everyone likes a happy ending, don't they?