The words “dude” and “bro” are spoken with such banal harmony — literally, at the beginning or the end of almost every sentence — in Andrew Neel’s drama Goat that you feel nervous when a line of dialogue is missing them. In one of the film’s cleverest touches, the “dudes” and “bros” are a feeble defense mechanism for 19-year-old Brad (Ben Schnetzer) during the toxic tsunami of fake masculinity known as Hell Week, as he’s pledging to join the college fraternity of his older brother (Nick Jonas).
Ben is still reeling from a violent carjacking assault when he’s plunged into a graphic scrum of humiliations, which Neel and co-screenwriters Mike Roberts and David Gordon Green have obviously researched extensively. The hazing scenes comprise half the running time of Goat and are appropriately difficult to watch (the film’s title comes from said animal, which is utilized for more than petting). Though the movie aims for the gravity and psychological horror of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, the film is essentially the dark flip side of a Seth Rogen comedy, with antagonist supporting characters as cardboard and shallow as any of the secondary figures in Neighbors. That’s not at all true, mercifully, for Schnetzer, the classically trained New York actor who gives a remarkably internalized and subtle performance.
Schnetzer, whose stock is sure to soon rise, is a shape-shifter — you’d never look at this gay Irish 1980s activist in Pride and conclude that it was the same person — but in only a few roles so far, he’s shown an extraordinary ability to portray both vulnerability and the mask screwed on to hide it. In the rough but imprecise Goat, that quality makes him the perfect tour guide to this d-bag adventureland. B