Brotherhood (2011)

Brotherhood is a tense thriller about a group of American Fraternity boys; a notoriously difficult concept to sell in Britain, mainly because Frat Houses simply don’t exist here. Not yet anyway, although as our society gradually becomes more americanised I imagine they’ll begin popping up like Super Size meals and the dirty culture of suing people because you’re basically a bit clumsy. In fact, they recently had a Graduation Prom at my old primary school. A primary school! So Fraternity / Sorority houses appearing across Britain would be of no surprise.

Although films such as Animal House and Sorority Row give us ridiculous glimpses of life in these drunken insane asylums, it is rare that we’re allowed to perceive them as anything except dens of inequity run by bullies and aging sadists. Brotherhood gives us a tiny glimpse into a more realistic world – a grounded world – and it’s a better movie because of it. In fact, Brotherhood is excellent.

The plot focuses on the boys of Sigma Zeta Chi and an initiation task that goes horribly wrong. One fateful evening they initiate any freshman “pledges” wanting to join their prestigious fraternity by forcing them to rob local petrol stations of exactly 19 dollars and 10 cents. But it’s not a robbery – it’s a trick – and when each boy steps out of the van, balaclava pulled over their head and pistol in hand, they’re greeted by a cheeky Sigma Zeta Chi Frat Boy who proceeds to shove the money into their hands and tells them to not tell the others! It’s not about doing the deed – there is no deed – but actually showing your willingness to commit a heinous felony for your fellow “brothers”.

This initiation prank runs smoothly at first, fooling all the pledges into believing they’re actually going to break the law on many levels. Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is the final “pledge” – he rushes from the van and into the petrol station, expecting anything. The cheeky Sigma Zeta Chi Frat Boy, however, isn’t there… and Kevin proceeds to actually hold up the petrol station, with disastrous consequences.

Unlike most Fraternity films (Animal House, Road Trip, Old School) Brotherhood isn’t gross-out stupid or utterly puerile. Although some members of Sigma Zeta Chi commit some cruel pranks on a homely girl and her lover, it’s not too extreme and deliberately included for plotting purposes. Their house-party doesn’t feature donkeys or midgets or a wicked celebrity DJ or other such clichés. Despite the lack of absurdities the basis for realism always lies on the shoulders of the characters, our protagonists, and in Brotherhood they excel.

Writer / Director Will Canon treats all characters with respect, no matter how flawed, idiotic or insignificant they are. The strong cast, sharp direction and great script (co-written by Douglas Simon) makes a potentially ridiculous situation believable. It does teeter on the preposterous at times but manages to keep itself grounded throughout. As a feature debut this is an exceedingly strong calling card for Will Canon and I genuinely look forward to his future contributions to film.

Not everything can rest on Canon’s genius, however, and he is blessed with a decent cast. Fraternity leader Frank is played expertly by Jon Foster, giving a troubled performance that is incredibly subtle despite outward appearances, whilst Frank’s favourite pledge Adam is played by Trevor Morgan, who gives an outstanding performance as our sympathetic protagonist. Probably best known for his roles in Mean Creek and as the survivalist kid in Jurassic Park 3, Morgan proves he has maturity and a strong future ahead of him. There are superb performances throughout, especially from Arlen Escarpeta and Carrier’s Lou Taylor Pucci who respectively play a store clerk and one of the more unfortunate pledges in the film. Even the minor characters have memorable parts thanks to great casting, intelligent costume design and a clever script.

Brotherhood isn’t completely without its flaws, though. At some points it feels too much is going wrong and reminds you of films like Very Bad Things, Staggered and The Hangover in its escalating problems, although it thankfully never goes as far. Even in the final reel (where a surprise reveal isn’t hugely surprising), Brotherhood still functions perfectly as the actors and script and direction ensure we’re convinced by the entire situation.

Some may find the entire concept unlikeable as every single character is flawed in some capacity – including a policeman / ex-Frat Brother and the robbed petrol station clerk – but this only fuels the realism behind the piece. Some may also be shocked that it isn’t just a straight “suffer the consequences” movie like Road Kill or Tormented, because Brotherhood touches on the themes of trust, responsibility, friendship and the unstoppable power of escalation. It creates a truly interesting and exciting production that secretes an intelligence under all the constant mania, violence and aggression.

Brotherhood is a quality piece of work. The direction is good, the script is excellent, the acting is superb and the score ties it together perfectly, resulting in a gripping, brutal, exciting film.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

One Comment on “Brotherhood”

  1. Jess says:

    This film is brilliant! It something that I thought I wouldn’t like being about American fraternities that I definitely cannot relate to. However, I was very pleasently surprised. It had me gripped from the very beginning. It really is stressful and sometimes very hard to watch. I couldn’t find any flaws with this film.

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