'Pledge': Film Review

The reality is scarier.
1/11/2019

An exclusive college club tortures wannabes in Daniel Robbins' thriller.

Hapless college dorks get a shot with the in-crowd in Daniel Robbins' Pledge — or so they think. They've actually taken the bait in a trap whose dishonesty would be evident to any half-sentient freshman, even if it would be impossible to guess whether this is mere Dogfight or Dinner For Schmucks-style humiliation or something more sinister. It's the latter. And while some thriller addicts may embrace the resulting misanthropic action, others may find their minds wandering — to the many real-life cases of fraternity hazing, gang-rape and run-of-the-mill antisocial behavior that inspire deeper feelings of dread than this unconvincing outing.

We open on three generic guys making the rounds of rush-week parties, hoping to convince Greek alpha males they should be allowed to stay and drink. David (Zack Weiner, who wrote the film), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachery Byrd) aren't charismatic in their outsiderness, and we might silently rejoice as the latter two seem to chip away at David's resolve: Maybe they'll go back to the dorm and realize their non-Gamma Epsilon Whatever classmates are much better company. Sadly, before they give up, they're identified as the easy marks they are: An out-of-their-league girl invites them to a party at a secluded mansion. (To be clear, all women are out of their league, leaving these dudes slack-jawed and inarticulate.)

That girl, Erica Boozer's Rachel, is herself just a pawn of the haughty bros we're about to meet: She and many other attractive women are window dressing at a party meant to show these three that, should they join "The Krypteia," their lives will be one long blur of "premium vodka" shots sipped from sorority-girl cleavage. Along with a pair of less dweeby freshmen, the boys enthusiastically show up the next day to have their mettle tested for membership.

The three Krypteia members who greet them have a slightly more interesting dynamic — with Cameron Cowperthwaite's Ricky occasionally playing good cop when pint-sized tyrant Max (Aaron Dalla Villa) is too harsh with them — but still, their hazing of the recruits feels cobbled together from decades-old college comedies and watered-down torture porn. After starting with a bang — branding each kid with the club's logo — the older students assure them the next 48 hours of physical, mental and emotional tests will serve a noble goal. "We're looking for your breaking points, gentlemen. (Pounds his fist.) Because great men don't have one."

Okay, if you say so. But these particular men start looking for the door in no time, at which point the Krypteia guys mostly drop the act and start trying to kill them. Weiner adds a couple of twists to the violence, but the broadness of the direction and dialogue ensures that, by this point, we're not terribly invested in anybody's fate. At a time when all kinds of boys' clubs are being dissected in every available form of media, the hand-me-down visions in Pledge aren't nearly as edgy as they intend to be.

Production company: Stag Pictures
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Zack Weiner, Phillip Andre Botello, Zachery Byrd, Aaron Dalla Villa, Cameron Cowperthwaite, Jesse Pimentel, Erica Boozer
Director: Daniel Robbins
Screenwriter: Zack Weiner
Producers: Keaton Heinrichs, Akiva Nemetsky, Mark Rapaport
Executive producers: Matthew Barrett, J.D. Lifshitz, Raphael margules
Director of photography: William Babcock
Production designer: Clarisa Garcia-Fresco
Costume designer: Talia Weiner
Editor: Nik Voytas
Composer: Jon Natchez
Casting directors: Patricia Gallio, Dana Lockhart, Johanna Tacadena

77 minutes