I have this spectacular tradition of missing the must-see movie every year at SXSW. Despite the adulations of the Carlson Kids, I missed out on The Hurt Locker. And last year, it came down to a flip of a coin with me choosing against Will Canon’s feature debut Brotherhood. It ended up winning the narrative feature audience award. Brotherhood is like the out of control antics of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, where a psychotic fraternity prank continues to escalate to ridiculous ends when the entire thing could simply have been avoided if the smart and responsible thing had been done. It’s a shouty movie full of angry aggro behavior funneled through alcohol consumption and that particularl swinging dick mentality of most stereotypical fraternities. It addresses the insanity and brutality of hazing while acknowledging the unflinching brotherhood of the fraternities. Unquestionably, the fraternity brothers come off like one part raving lunatics, one part frenzied farm animal, one part militant cultist, and one part prickish hatefilled swine. It doesn’t so much weave the elements of sexism and racism and drunkenness into the story as to careen crashing through each trope on its way to its fucked up conclusion. It’s resplendent with shouty performances, lots of sweaty swearing faces screaming into each other, and a plotline which can’t help but shudder and shuck the rails as it heads towards the finale.
I cannot mop floors properly. Whenever I do, I end up smearing some tiny droplet of filth and making it worse. The mop bucket water inevitably gets dirtier, and by the end, I have a floor with a single stain spread outwards and irrevocably. That’s pretty much what happens in Brotherhood. It all starts in a van filled with scared teenagers and one guy with a moussed up douche do raging at them with the usual feminizing sexual slang — faggots and bitches and pussies, oh my. He insists that they leap out of the panel van armed with a revolver and rob convenience stories of $19.10, since their fraternity, Sigma Zeta Chi, was founded in 1910. It’s all a harmless prank — one of those manly mannish things meant to show how manly men are when they were shirts with Greek letters stitched on them. You know, like drinking a low-rent beer that’s been boiling behind a radiator or tying bricks to your cocks with string and throwing them off rooftop. Usually, it has something to do with being naked, penises and grain alcohol. And such is this furious movie born.
One of the pledges, Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), doesn’t get corralled as part of the fun and ends up actually attempting to rob the convenience store, helmed by Mike (Arlen Escarpeta), who’s black. I mention this because it comes up later. Repeatedly. In fact, Mike’s unforgivable blackness is just one of several easy bake coincidences baked into the layers of the film. Like when a group of the frat guys make one of the pledges perform a “rodeo”: where he starts having doggie style sex with a fat girl and sees how long he can stay inside her when all his brothers come plowing into the room and yelling at them. Lovely, right? Don’t worry, he gets punished for “disrespecting” women by being thrown half naked in the trunk of a brother’s car with several bottles of whiskey and beer and told he couldn’t leave until he finished it all.
Anyway, Kevin gets shot by Mike, and when their hazing master Frank (Jon Foster) and Kevin’s fellow pledge Adam (Trevor Morgan) bust in and try to break it up, shit starts to go down. The shit storm follows a crazy slope, as basically Adam just wants to take Kevin to a hospital, but Frank insists on bringing him back to the fraternity house and finding a med school brother to possibly patch them up. It’s strangely exactly like the shitty National Lampoon’s College Comedies, only everything is given a dramatic bent. And by dramatic, I mean, mostly people yell fuck and shut up and get in each other’s faces.
Canon does an admirable job for the most part, making the most of the sparsity of incidents. He’s actually pretty astounding when it comes to using a gun set on stage in the first act in pretty much every act, and not always as a gun. Even through the film barely cracks the 80 minute mark, it’s in the third act that film starts to buckle under the weight of the ludicrousness of the shit that keeps piling on. If only they had just sucked it up and taken Kevin to the hospital and explained their mistake, everything would have turned out alright. But it doesn’t, and for all the originality and minute twists, it ends kind of predictably. The actors do their parts well, which consists mostly of jock posturing and in your face grunting, with the occasional tense muttering. Trevor Morgan does a fine job of furiously demanding they save his friend. Lou Taylor Pucci plays the victim part well. I figured with his pedigree, he’d be more of a foreground character, but it’s an interesting twist on that. Jon Foster’s Frank has the same vulpine leer as Dane Cook with twice the hair gel and pent up frustration. When you sit back and kind of weigh the inanity of the decisions and the likelihood that this would have turned out all right after all, it’s less plausible than South Dakota abortion clinic fundraising. In all honestly, it makes jack fucking sense. Even with rudimentary CSI and shit, every loophole can’t possibly be closed. And when your movie is about closing every entire loophole, you’re kind of fucked.
Brotherhood comes off decently enough, though it has a fierce tendency to treat cruelty and sexism and dehumanization in the same way that some mediocre torture porn directors revel in cutting up a big-titted blondie. That sort of half-assed way of doing and saying all the nasty shit in order to, you know, make a large point about how truly disgusting it is. Canon’s saving grace is that he really doesn’t just do shit to be gratuitous. Every action does pay off eventually — but it’s rather disappointing when you tally the final bill. The beginning scenes are extremely tense, and it never lets loose, constantly building, but then it takes on too much and gets too stupid and then sort of lumbers and thuds to an end.