As I watched one of 2019’s first horror films, I couldn’t stop thinking “This reminds me of Bentley Little”. Of course, if he wrote this it would be called “The Fraternity” or something like that. A quick search shows there is a “The University” but the plot is different. We have normal, innocuous beginnings with a three of just-enough-outcasts soon in over their heads as the join an organization with a shady past and weird ways of doing things.
As the title suggests, the story is based around the pledge period of a “club” (rather than calling themselves a fraternity). A trio of stereotype outcasts – the fat one, the scared black one (in a movie where everyone else is white, it makes it a note), and the nerdy Jew David (writer of the film Zach Weiner – not the guy who makes SMBC). I felt dirty just writing the description but that’s what we’re given. These guys are so low even the Triple Deltas would reject them. With Weiner’s character as a loudmouth socially-unaware McLovin’, it makes it hard to like the guys, to be honest. I do feel for their plight as the boil is turned up in the pot of water pledge, but dammit if I didn’t want David’s head on a stick in the opening minutes. There are two other pledges but we gotta have some direct cannon fodder don’t we?
Just a note to the unwise, if you’ve been shunned from every fraternity on campus – don’t accept an invite from the one in a mysterious manor in the middle of the woods. That doesn’t have a driveway. And is filled with dudes who you’d expect to be wearing MAGA hats and talking up Trickle-Down Economics (like that frat with David Spade in PCU). And keeps shoving hot women and drugs down your throat.
What occurs is just as you’d expect from this type of movie. After the awesome party to get the nerds in the door, the actual pledging is hazing to the nth degree. It’s crazy how quickly this goes ape-shit. I half expected the trio to be in a human centipede within an hour. The actions and suitably cringe-inducing and did get the suitable reactions from me as a viewer. Despite the expectations being followed, as the hazing/torture ramps up and the expected twists past this segment, the shot choice, editing, and look of the film do get a good level of tension.
During this, David does calm the hell down to make me only want his ears grabbed with hot tongs instead of the head plus stick.
One major downside is the way the film treats women. It’s enough to almost take me out of the film, and will no doubt turn off many viewers. This is a frat movie, so this is a bit expected, but the women exist solely as sex objects, to lure the nerds in and then die. It could have possibly been a better turn and stronger film to excise all women and keep it to fucked up dudes.
The look helps the film a great deal. Daniel Robbins is a newish director – his one other feature credit is Uncaged (I’ve not seen it) but he and his crew show a deft hand both in basic camera work and the color design of the film. I look forward to what the Robbins may do in the future, the seeds of fine work are present. But the sapling grown from the first seeds is a good growth.
At a scant 77 minutes, Pledge doesn’t over stay it’s welcome. While character work outside of the basic notations is excised in exchange for this quick time, it allows a tight, often tense once it turns on the burners, horror film.
I give a C+; well done enough for a rental and almost 80 minutes of entertainment. I wouldn’t revisit but a night at this club is solid.
Pledge is on VOD from Amazon and other outlets.