Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Frat boys run amok in Daniel Robbins and Zack Weiner's riveting and scary thriller, PLEDGE

I can't prove that the connection between Capitalism and very bad fraternity behavior was foremost in the mind of the writer and/or the director of the new horror/thriller PLEDGE, but by the end of this gruelling but somehow satisfying, if ugly, movie, that connection has been made in spades. The writer, Zack Weiner, is also one of the stars of the film, and while Pledge gives his character some decent dialog and amusingly awful situations to endure, Mr. Weiner (pictured below, left) has actually given the center of attention and interest to a character we rarely see as central or heroic: the fat boy in the trio of friends who make up the movie's "group hero."

That rotund and generally affable fellow is played exceedingly well by Zachery Byrd (above, center), who relatively quickly comes to seem like the voice of reason of the three pals, all of whom want fairly desperately to be able to join a fraternity on their college campus. How they're enticed to cast their lot with the very unusual group, whose simple insignia grows more horrifying as the movie progresses, takes up maybe the first third of this short, dark and dirty little genre movie that succeeds mightily where a number of other naughty-frat-boy films have not. Pledge knows what's it's up to, dives in and proceeds to its finale with devastating focus and force.

The director, Daniel Robbins (at right) has paced things very well: offering up a slow, sure and crisp beginning followed by a middle and end in which we're barely allowed to draw a breath. Best of all, thanks to Weiner's screenplay and Robbins' handling of it, there are quite a few genuine surprises along the way, most of these coming, thankfully, toward the end.

These are not merely "plot" surprises, either; instead they often involve character. Though our roly-poly is the best defined of the group, almost all of the subsidiary characters, victims or villains, are given enough interesting characteristics for us to easily differentiate, as well as care for or detest them appropriately.

The "hosts" of the very oddball fraternity to which our boys want to attach are played with lip-smacking delight by several good actors, including Cameron Cowperthwaite (above) and Aaron Dalla Villa (below).

The young women seen here are used for mostly decorative purposes and as an enticement to and reason for our less-than-intrepid heroes to come aboard. No, the subject at hand is the American male, Alpha variety, and all the wonders he can get up (and down) to.

Mr. Robbins knows just how far to dish out the blood, gore and vomit (more is smartly imagined/suggested than actually seen, but what is suggested/seen is plenty). This combination of smart, if very unappealing, subject matter -- brought to life via good writing, direction and performance -- turns what might have been just another fairly standard horror/thriller into a nastily memorable genre piece.

From IFC Midnight, Pledge opens theatrically in New York City (at the IFC Center) this Friday, January 11, and in Los Angeles (at the Arena Cinelounge) the following Friday, January 18. If you reside elsewhere than either coast, fear not: the movie hits VOD this Friday, January 11, as well.

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