By midlandsmovies, Jan 21 2019 03:08PM
Pledge (2019) Dir. Daniel Robbins
This 2019 horror satire has three friends, the rotund Justin (Zachery Byrd), geeky Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and the Woody Allen-alike David (Zach Weiner) attempt to join a fraternity in their first few weeks at college. The trio of socially awkward nerds try their best to join a number of party-centric houses but with little success before being invited to a get together where their wildest dreams come true – booze, birds and “bro” respect.
However, as these things play out they are asked to return to this mansion in the woods and pledge their allegiance during a hazing ceremony the following night. Hazing usually consists of a few embarrassing initiation trials to show your commitment to the club. Yet a much more sadistic version of this higher education rite of passage is forced upon them before they quickly realise they are facing potentially deadly consequences.
The film has a solid cast – the lead trio are believable as the studious losers – and Aaron Dalla Villa as one of the heads of the well-dressed frat house is as cocky and arrogant as needed – especially when shouting “Are you ready to be Kings of the campus?” at his potential new ‘recruits’. The film begins well with hints upon the darkness coming up and some neat character-driven conversations showing how desperate the boys are to be popular.
Unfortunately, the excellent candle-lit cinematography – which is one of many religious-infused images seen throughout – is almost entirely undone by characters that make such silly decisions and therefore Pledge begins to fail as soon as the situation takes a turn for the worse.
The three guys are portrayed as wimps – fine, but as pupils at a university was it intentional to have them make such dumb choices? As their trials get more violent and dangerous, their attempts to escape, if you can call them that, are straight out of the Scooby-Doo school of thought. Doors are open at random, the group splits up and they repeat the same actions with the expectation of a different outcome. With the boys up against the brutal jocks, the film could have portrayed a contrast between the power of the mind versus the strength of athleticism but fails to find appropriate fodder in the themes it (superficially) broaches.
Much like the boys, an audience will be tested mentally and emotionally to stick with them and as the characters’ opportunities to escape slipped away so did my interest. With Green Room (2015) showing clever youngsters caught in a building trying their clever best in an attempt to escape, there’s no excuse for having characters not making believable decisions. With a hint of the gruesome testing games of Would You Rather (2012) the film attempts to metaphorically explore the struggles of supremacy in American institutions but fails its initiation test owing to a thin plot and thick characters.
★★ ½ Stars