Goat doesn’t start the way you think it would. Before you get to any of the cheap beer chugging and vomit inducing harassment that are littered throughout the trailer, the first thing you see is the main character, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) leaving a frat party. Sure, you get a little taste of what’s to come. There are brothers doing cocaine and identical looking blonde girls making out with each other, but it’s not quite the kind of partying that was promised. Instead, something far more interesting happens. Brad, who is mostly characterized by the fact he is a push over, gives a ride to two guys who claim to have recognized him from the party. They drive him out into the middle of the woods and then they beat the shit out of him, taking his car and all of his money in the process.
It’s disturbing to say the least. To watch someone like Brad, who is clearly so sheltered and naive he can’t see the red flags even if they’re right in front of his face, be taken advantage of truly sets the tone for the film. I was expecting Spring Breakers levels of partying and depravity, and while there is plenty of depravity, none of it is the fun kind. That’s not all the opening does, though. It makes you feel sorry for Brad. It makes you protective of him. It puts you in the same position as Brett (Nick Jonas), Brad’s older brother. It’s the only clever thing the film does, because as you watch him make bad choice after bad choice, you’re not annoyed or exasperated by his choices. You’re just kind of sad.
Brad is (understandably) rattled by what happened and considers skipping the first semester of college, but Brett won’t have it. His fraternity, Phi Sig, only rushes in the fall, so after getting Brad to spend a weekend hanging out with his brothers by the pool, he’s easily convinced. School starts along with rush, and we’re finally treated to all those “fun” scenes that made the trailer. The aspiring brothers (who are called goats for whatever reason) are forced to drink until they vomit all over themselves, are kidnapped and taken into the middle of the woods, and are told multiple times they’re going to have to fuck a goat (Spoiler alert: they never do). It’s gross and looks terrible and is pretty joyless to watch. If you’ve read any hazing coverage from the last couple of years, it’s pretty standard.
As the goats make it through Hell Week and into the more normal aspects of rush, Brett and Brad grow increasingly unhappy with Phi Sig. Brad can’t help but feel like his brothers are no different from the guys that mugged him early in the year, and Brett can’t really stand watching his brother go through hazing. More terrible things happen and Brad finally manages to grow a little bit of a spine and stops rushing. Both gain some perspective and realize that being in Phi Sig is essentially meaningless and that their bond as real life brothers is much more important. And then, the movie just kind of ends.
There’s nothing deeper to Goat than “frats are bad.” It’s a pretty unremarkable movie that includes no information or perspective you wouldn’t get from reading a couple of news articles. James Franco is great in his short cameo as the old dude who just can’t stop partying with college students. Schnetzer and Jonas are both fine, but kind of unbelievable as brothers. There’s no deep bond or reason to suspect they especially care about each other. There’s nothing special about the cinematography or the sound design or anything like that. After the burst of semi interesting violence, there’s nothing but a bunch of guys treating each other like shit.