Nick Jonas, the youngest JoBro – he's 24 – makes good on some promising TV acting (Kingdom, Scream Queens) with an outstanding performance in Goat, a fact-based fratboy movie it might be helpful to think of as Animal House minus the laughs.
Jonas plays Brett Land, a member of Phi Sigma Mu, a fraternity now being pledged by his younger brother Brad (Ben Schnetzer), who wrote the 2004 anti-hazing memoir on which the film is based. It's already been a traumatizing summer for Brad: After leaving his alpha brother at a party, he's pressured to give a ride to two townies who take him to a deserted field and beat the crap out of him. "Do you think I'm a pussy," Brad asks his brother later, "I don't know why I didn't fight back." Brett thinks his sibling will heal by finding support among the members of Phi Sigma Mu. But first Brad has to endure Hell Week, which makes his beating look like a spa night. Getting peed on and tricked into thinking they're eating shit — that's just for starters.
Director Andrew Neel, working from a script he wrote with Mike Robert, offers a harrowing depiction of what frat leaders do to break down these "goats" before bringing them into the fold. It's brutal to watch, especially when pledgemaster Dixon (a scarily effective Jake Picking) brutally bullies Brad's weakling roommate Will (Danny Flaherty). But Brad sticks it out, his own self-loathing sustaining his drive to finally belong. Neel is less interested in rubbing our faces in debasement than in examining the fucked-up codes of masculinity that extend far beyond campus life. Schnetzer, so good in Snowden, digs deep to find our hero's psychic bruises. He gets to you. But it's Jonas, projecting Brett's dawning realization not just of what he's witnessed but of what he's been party to, that gives this jolting film its grieving heart. Goat means to shake you, and does it ever.