A van rolls through the night with fraternity members at the wheel and hopeful pledges packed in back. The initiation rite is simple and suitably stupid… they pull up to a random gas station, the pledge runs in with a ski mask on his head and a gun in his hand and demands the cash from the register. What could possibly go wrong? Especially since the pledges are stopped by another member before entering and handed a small bag of cash to bring back to the van. They never see the inside of the store as the test is simply to see if they have the balls to do it. Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is understandably nervous, but heads in anyway when it comes to his turn. Only they’re at the wrong station, there’s no one there to stop him, and he’s about to be shot in the chest by an equally nervous store clerk.
Movies featuring college fraternities usually fall into one of two categories. There are the comedies that focus on panty raids, frat house competitions, and the protein value of fried semen. And there are the dramatic thrillers about conspiracies, date rape, and hazing. Brotherhood falls squarely on the thriller side, but it does so with a breathless pace, a smart script, and far stronger acting than these types of films usually deserve. It’s quite possibly the best of the genre… and yes, I have seen The Skulls.
Kevin’s attempted robbery gets him shot just as the others rush in to stop him, and their pleas that “this is a prank” and “we’re not really robbing you” fall on deaf and rattled ears as the clerk continues to fire. They manage to subdue him, but their troubles are only just beginning. How do they get medical attention for Kevin without getting into trouble? How do they keep the clerk from calling the police? Why are sorority girls setting fire to their frat house lawn? Where did all these toilet seats come from?
As Kevin lay dying back at the house, two characters take center stage and butt heads in an effort to do what’s right from their own perspectives. Frank (Jon Foster) is the head of the frat and desperately trying to find a way out of the mess that doesn’t end with him and his brothers in jail. Adam (Trevor Morgan) is another pledge struggling as both a friend of Kevin’s and the sole voice of reason throughout the night. He doesn’t consistently make the smartest calls… he is after all pledging a fraternity, but his heart and actions lean towards common sense.
The movie hits the ground running and manages to maintain momentum through to the very end thanks to a sharp script from Will Canon and Doug Simon alongside frenetic and energetic direction from Canon. It helps that at under eighty minutes the film is more of a sprint than a marathon, but the tension and suspense are near constants throughout. A lot of twists and turns are packed into that short running time rarely giving the characters or viewers the chance to catch their breath. Kidnapping, assault, blackmail, and an absurd attempt at a “reverse” robbery are just a handful of the very bad things these guys endure, and credit should be given for all of it remaining believable.
There’s rarely a false note to be found due in equal parts to the script and to the quality of acting on display. Foster elevates his frat boy above simple stereotype to provide him with a sense of honor and loyalty to his brothers that while misguided still feels legit. The standout here though is Morgan who’s forced to walk a thin line with a role that balances the complexities of friendship and a desire to belong alongside the need to do the right thing. His sense of urgency and intensity is infectious. Of course the screenwriter’s rulebook does require at least one frat boy stereotype per fraternity-related film so a one-dimensional racist prick is tossed in to add to the conflict. Other characters don’t quite get the time needed to know or care all that much, but it should be noted that Pucci plays a fantastic bleeder.
Brotherhood is a rare and unexpected success in that it takes a relatively well worn plot, jettisons the extraneous fat, and focuses on what truly matters. That being the tension, the story, and the characters. It’s a truly exciting thriller that feels realistic even as the situation goes from bad to worse to ridiculous, manages to be stylish without becoming flashy, and perhaps most impressive of all… it makes us care about somebody who would actually consider joining a fraternity.
Brotherhood is currently playing in UK cinemas and will be released on DVD in the UK on January 31st. US audiences will have to wait until February 18th when it hits Comcast’s Video-On-Demand.
The Upside: Thrills and suspense start almost immediately and don’t stop until the end; strong acting from Trevor Morgan; played straight but still comically absurd as the situation gets worse and worse
The Downside: A couple stereotypical and one-dimensional characters; no time for proper character introductions