The survival film Pledge premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival July 24th, ready to welcome audience member into a crash course on brutality. The story follows three friends in their attempt to join a fraternity at all costs. Of course things take a turn when the doors are locked and the hazing becomes only a teaser for what will come next.

 

If maniacs taking sick pleasure in prolonged physical and mental torture is something you have trouble with, Pledge might not be the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you always wanted to see some dude-bro frat-freaks get their come-upons, considered Pledge a blood-stained revenge of the nerds.

 

“[…] moments in Pledge, as sadistic as they are, could just as easily be pulled from the headlines.”

 

Everyone on campus is busy joining frats and having fun. Everyone except David, Justin, and Ethan. The three best friends have been walking from rejection to rejection all ‘Frosh-Week’ with no hope of finding brotherhood and beer. They aren’t frat-boy material, and they know it. These three amigos are sweet, charming, slightly nerdy guys, and unfortunately they don’t fit the profile. To be honest though, I don’t see what the big deal is. Best I can tell, they’re missing out on MONTHS of messy parties and uncomfortable comradery, at best!

After the group is rejected yet again, they’re given an invite to the party of their dreams at a frat across town who just so happens to be excepting new pledges. Sure, it sounds too good to be true but at a particular low moment in team morale, they make they’re way to the mysterious frat house. No, it’s not weird that this party is in the outskirts of town. Yes, we’re going to ignore how nice and “welcoming” everyone seems even though they’re clearly fantasizing about their deaths. Everything is fine. We’ll just have another 37 drinks and let all our worries wash away.

 

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Surprise! Everyone is alive in the morning. But the super-creepy, totally not murdery, frat boys invite our heroes back for another pledge party that very night. No one gets any weird vibes from the killer bros and it’s back to How To Get Murdered 101 at Massacre Manor after sundown. The group, as well as a few gullible dorm dummies from the previous night are welcomed back with open arms. Tragically, they do not see that the windows have been barred and any hope of escape is lost. Once inside, the pledges hand over their cell phones & personal items to the frat, and await the hazing.

 

Hazing has long been a serious problem on university and college campuses. “Pledges” are made to prove their worth and commitment to the fraternity through degrading and dangerous acts. What (I assume) began as a harmless but embarrassing right-of-passage quickly escalated into callous violence and a complete disregard for the well being of others. Hazing has become one of the darkest aspects of post-secondary education and moments in Pledge, as sadistic as they are, could just as easily be pulled from the headlines.

 

“Pledge teeters on social commentary and torture porn without fully committing to either.”

 

The hazing in Pledge escalates quickly. A little too quickly. I can absolutely get behind a Cheap Thrills scenario where our pledges are forced to take baby steps toward increasingly depraved acts. But you drop those same characters into Level 10 craziness out of the gate and it all falls apart for me. Our main characters are too accepting, and too willing to participate. There is some dissension in the ranks but it isn’t until they have to eat pureed-rat gazpacho that everyone’s ready to quit.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a brilliant turn in the later half of Pledge that plays so very nicely. But it’s a reveal that I wanted to be explored just a little more. I was glad to see that the movie was more than just a Green Room fight for survival in a frat house but I found very little that surprised me. Pledge teeters on social commentary and torture porn without fully committing to either. Our main characters are absolutely likable and you want to see them find safety but they become less interesting just as the stakes are raised to an insane level. Pledge is a movie that wants you to feel scared for the people on screen, but asks you to look at them as cattle being lead to the slaughter until eventually you don’t care whether they live or die.

Pledge celebrated its World Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 24th. The film was directed by Daniel Robbins and written by Zachary Weiner. Pledge stars Zachery Byrd, Philip Adnre Botello, Aaron Dalla Villa, Zach Weiner and Erica Boozer.

Check out more of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantasia Fest Coverage here, and be sure to sound off with your thoughts over on Twitter and in our Facebook Group!