“Goat,” a new indie film from writer and director Andrew Neel, doesn’t hold back in its grueling depiction of fraternity hazing.
Based on Brad Land’s 2004 memoir of the same name, “Goat” tells the story of 19-year-old Brad (Ben Schnetzer, “Pride” and “Snowden”) who endures a violent assault and then (willingly) subjects himself to another kind of trauma—Hell Week at his big brother’s fraternity.
While the hazing is already to the extreme—for both viewers and the pledges— it’s even more brutal for Brad, whose case of PTSD almost puts him over the edge.
Nick Jonas (yes, that Jonas, who also plays a frat brother on “Scream Queens”) co-stars as Schnetzer’s older brother Brett, who simultaneously ushers him into frat culture while trying to protect him from it.
The script — heavy on the bro-speak — was co-written by David Gordon Green, who has made his fair share of dramas but may be better known for stoner buddy comedies like “Pineapple Express” and HBO’s absurdly hilarious “Eastbound and Down". James Franco cameos as a slightly-deranged alum of the frat who comes back to visit.
We spoke with the two young stars Jonas and Schnetzer about brotherhood (real-life and fraternal), and how the film might serve as a warning to this year's incoming college freshmen.
“Goat” is out Friday in limited release.
The hazing scenes in the film were grueling to watch. What was it like filming them?
Schnetzer: It was grueling; it was also rewarding. At the end of the day you’d feel like you earned your shower.
There was a rough sketch of what needed to be accomplished, but Andrew [Neel] kept the pledges and the brothers separate. We didn’t really know what was going on.
How did you guys prepare for these roles? Did you watch any classic frat movies or even war films?
Nick Jonas: “Frat House” the documentary, directed by Todd Phillips, Andrew had us watch, that really helped. It’s one of the only real, behind-closed-doors looks at that really rough experience. Also, speaking to people who have been in fraternities and hearing their stories. And realizing, not every story is negative. There are a lot of positive things about fraternities. The idea of brotherhood on some level is healthy. It’s just when these power struggles come into play and it gets really out of hand that it becomes dangerous.
Did you draw on your relationships with your own brothers for this role?
Jonas: I’m very close with my brothers. Specifically with my brother Joe, there are a lot of parallels to the relationship (in the film). I’m very protective of him and he is of me and we spoke a lot about the protection of each other being a theme for us in this film. Different elements, whether it’s physical protection or emotional, they all played into the dynamics of the relationship.
Do either of you have any personal experience with hazing?
Schnetzer:No, not really. I was joking with Andrew before we started filming that we’re making this film about frat brothers and college boys, you’re gonna get a bunch of actors in their early twenties who either didn’t go to college or went to acting school.
A lot of the hazing scenes themselves, you kind of just take the ride. The work is done for you. For the rest of it, you just work on filling in the blanks.
Recent films you’ve done, from “Pride” to “Snowden” and now “Goat,” have all been based on true events. Does that element add an extra gravitas to the work?
Schnetzer:There’s definitely an added sense of responsibility you feel going into it, but I think it’s your responsibility as a performer to take that on board, not as a burden, but as a support system. and to let it motivate you further. I’ve found, yeah, you get this sense of, 'God, the stakes are higher, there are real people.' Especially in this case, Brad (Land), he’s alive, he has a family, this is his story. It really just comes down to the stories being really compelling. Life is sometimes just stranger than fiction.
What kind of impact do you think “Goat” will have as far as bringing awareness to toxic frat house culture?
Schnetzer:It’s definitely going to be a conversation starter. It’s cool that it’s coming out at the beginning of the school year. The fraternity is just the backdrop of this film and this guy’s experience — but, it would be really nice if folks had a discussion about masculinity, in general, when they’re leaving the theater.
Jonas:My little brother is starting college this year. I told him that I wanted him to see this movie before he thinks about pledging. So, if it can be a tool for people just to see what the worst case scenario could be, that’d be great.