Director: Daniel Robbins
Cast: Zachary Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Zack Weiner, Aaron Dalla Villa, Cameron Copperthwaite, Jesse Pimentel, Jean-Louis Droulers, Joe Gallagher, Erica Boozer
A group of college freshmen pledge an exclusive fraternity but soon realize there’s more at stake than they could have ever imagined. – IMDB
It’s always nice to see filmmakers dive into rarely tapped or simply, untapped territories. To focus its story around fraternities and hazing and the whole pledging process is a great angle to use especially when there are some truly over the top things that can happen (or as the rumor goes) so what would stop it from diving into terrifying rite of passages like in Pledge.
Pledge starts in a fairly ominous way but jumps its timeline to the present as we see the typical loser or nerdy freshmen David (Zack Weiner), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachary Byrd) trying to be accepted into frat parties and just belonging somewhere without being humiliated. Things take a turn when they miss out on a party and a beautiful college girl Rachel (Erica Boozer) invites them to a party which ends up being in the middle of nowhere at a mansion. Taking this leap of faith, they are welcomed into this party (for the most part) and is invited back for a pledging ceremonies with two other guys, Ben (Joe Gallagher) and Sam (Jean-Louis Droulers) by these rich college boys Max (Aaron Dalla Villa), Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite) and Bret (Jesse Pimentel). The hazing starts off humiliating (and gross at times) but things get crazy and out of hand really fast and it turns into a race to escape and survival.
Pledge takes its audience for a grueling and brutal roller coaster ride that takes a huge dive from bad to worse to horrifying exponentially. The cinematography is handled incredibly well by William Tracy Babcock who maneuvers the shots to create a lot of atmosphere and chaos essentially with lighting and different angles making some engaging moments. Of course, no movie like this is complete without credit to the entire direction from director Daniel Robbins paired up with a great script by writer Zack Weiner, the same mentioned above that plays David. This film does a lot of right especially in choosing to twist a fairly straight forward story into an intense and well-paced thriller at a decent run time of accomplishing all of it in 81 minutes. Movies nowadays tend to run overly long and when a movie manages to be equally effective in a decent length, it is something to give credit to.
While a lot of the elements here contributed to this edge of the seat movie experience, one of the main standout is to its talented young cast. Whether it was the pledgers or the hazers, the depth in their characters is done so well. The film takes a lot of perspective from the college freshmen trapped in this life-threatening situation. The beginning moments give us a good idea of who these guys are wrapped up in their goofy and socially awkward personalities which push their personal limits and if and how they would retaliate. At the same time, a lot of the disturbing moments go to the quickly spiraling and out of control hazers. As the leader of the trio, Aaron Dalla Villa does a great job at being Max. His portrayal takes this character to the next level with his quiet expressions brewing with suspense then in a moment switching over some over the top repeated yelling for example to completely set the mood in a psychologically terrifying moments. However, Jesse Pimentel and Cameron Cowperthwaite, playing Bret and Ricky respectively, deliver equally fantastic roles. If Jesse Pimentel’s voice sounds familiar, he voices the role of Lucas Baker in 2017’s survival horror game Resident Evil: Biohazard, which was also a fairly unhinged character. There is so much more to say about how each of their roles shined, however to keep this spoiler-free, the hazers in general shined because of their characters depth. These characters are engaging to watch because of their development. They create the tension by growing more unhinged with each step further into the hazing process. There is nothing more terrifying than characters like these who spiral and what they do next is unexpected and unpredictable.
Pledge takes a great angle at adapting a story with a rarely used premise. While the moments in the hazing process are terrifying and even gross at parts and is a huge part in building the tension, the real credit goes to its young actors whose characters who make this into a deeper and much more psychologically driven thriller. It is a cleverly structured movie from start to finish and one that is a must-see.