Brotherhood

Brotherhood

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"You either do it or you don't," declares frat house head Frank (Jon Foster) near the beginning of Brotherhood, as he half-dares, half-bullies pledge Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) into undergoing an ethically suspect hazing. "Brother or bitch, what's it going to be?" This is only the first in a series of loaded moral dilemmas posed in Will Canon's feature debut – and in every case, the wrong decision will be taken, with increasingly dire consequences.

As part of their initiation into Sigma Zeta Chi, Kevin, his friend Adam (Trevor Morgan) and the other freshmen have each been pressured into agreeing to steal exactly $19.10 at gunpoint from a gas station – although, unbeknownst to them, a hidden fraternity member will intercept each would-be armed robber before the felony can ever be carried out, in what is really just a misguided test of commitment and loyalty to the brotherhood above and beyond all other values.

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That evening, however, at the ironically named Good Luck store in Roslyn, the prank goes horrifically wrong, and with Kevin now shot through the shoulder, the none-too-bright, all-too-compromised Frank decides to do what he does best – close ranks. Soon, the heavily bleeding Kevin is brought back to the frat house rather than taken to a hospital, with the protests of Adam and medical student Bean (Jesse Steccato) falling on deaf ears. All evidence of what went on at the convenience store is quickly cleaned up, while the clerk Mike (Arlen Escarpeta) is abducted - and worse - to ensure his silence. Yet Frank's desperation to keep things in-house and protect the fraternity at all costs seems to be leading ever more inevitably to several young men having to 'take one for the team'.

Expanded from Canon's NYU Film School short Roslyn (2003), Brotherhood certainly serves as a savage indictment of American fraternity culture, as well as of the particular male mindset that so readily yields all responsibility and rationality to peer group pressure – but it is also a gripping moral thriller, as we watch Adam struggling to hold onto his frayed sense of integrity while finding a way out of the hole into which Frank and his 'brothers' keep digging themselves. Soon the situation has become so utterly twisted that Adam's decision to walk into a store with a balaclava on his head and to demand that the clerk open up the safe has genuinely come to seem the best, even the right, thing to do. This is, of course, an echo of the film's opening scene, but by this stage in the game, there can be no real going back.

"Be fast!", Frank will tell his boys as he dispatches them on missions to extricate Sigma Zeta Chi from any culpability. It is an injunction that director/co-writer Canon himself follows, driving his events forward at such a furiously frenetic pace that there is barely time to notice any of the faults along the way. The number of coincidences (including Adam's prior acquaintance with Mike, and a particularly unlucky accident) required to motivate all the story's twists and turns is a little too great to be plausible – but Canon never pauses for breath or allows even a moment for reflection, editing his scenes with a rapid-fire staccato, restricting events to the temporal unity of a single night, and squeezing the entire film into a tight 76-minute duration.

Add to all this brisk narrative economy a solid central performance from Trevor Morgan, and you can see why Brotherhood won an Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2011
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A frat house hazing goes badly awry.
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