It’s hard to make a drama about a contentious subject without being too preachy or coming down on one side or another. Goat delves deeply and vividly into the rituals of college hazing, for some, shocking and unacceptable. For others, par for the course.

Opening with the speechless slow-motion jubilations of what could be any frat party, Goat centres it’s story on the mouth-gaping praxis of one specific college house, though anyone who’s had any experience with dorm living will be able to identify. The action kicks off with Brad’s (Ben Schnetzer in a break-out performance) less than ideal run-in with a couple of strangers in one of many tension-filled sequences. After joining his brother’s fraternity house (Nick Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame in a markedly intelligent performance), Brad is subjected to ordeals arguably more harrowing in his hazing week of horror.

This pervasively tempered take on frat life, combined with the adept casting of little-known actors helps impart Goat, at least for its first half, with a welcome documentary-style feel. So much of this film comes across as a passing, captivating insight into the behind-the-scenes life of any established university, or even your own, itself the film’s greatest strength by which Goat renders itself, for many, distinctly relatable.

Later, James Franco enters the picture as a frat-house alumni who isn’t quite able to let go. Commanding even in his fleeting role, Franco’s addition signals the film’s shift to more recognizable genre-fare, too darkening its hazing subject matter as Goat begins to brim with more conflict-driven, coming-of-age style college drama.

The hazing sequences, of which there are many, are wisely presented by the filmmakers in various lights, each scene unapologetically visceral for which the film is all the better. Alternately depicted as thrilling ventures or antipathetic submissions to a non-authority, the house’s practices are otherwise dispassionately represented by Director Andrew Neel as run-of-the-mill frat-house affairs, which depending on your outlook will invite viewers to come away with widely divergent perspectives.

Goat never tries to revel too much in the rituals’ allure nor disabuse the audience of their viability, instead letting viewers make up their own minds in a cleverly-made, enthralling film that lends itself to multiple interpretations and lively discussion.

Goat is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Monday 13 June, for tickets head to the Festival website

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