Starring Zachery Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Aaron Dalla Villa, Erica Boozer
Written by Zack Weiner
Directed by Daniel Robbins
Screened at Fantasia 2018
“I would swallow her underwear.” Yes, this is an actual line from the fun film, Pledge, premiering this year at Fantasia Film Festival on July 24th. With a running time of 78 minutes, Pledge removes the needless fluff of typical college films, throwing viewers directly into the dilemma of finding a renowned fraternity (or sorority) that wants you – versus an unfamiliar one that wants you too easily. With the insane incidents that happen to the guys in this film, I feared if the overall concept of this movie had ever been done for an actual pledge. (Gosh, I hope not.) The film is unique and can only come from the minds of director Daniel Robbins and writer Zachary Weiner, two people responsible for making me vomit in my cup. Thanks guys.
At the opening of the film, a beautiful drone shot takes us over a forest surrounding a corn field. As the drone inches closer to the ground, we see a speck of something rushing through the field. We discover it’s a person. It’s a boy who soon finds a clear path and races into the forest for his life. We can’t see what or whom he is running from, but we feel his fear. He constantly searches over his shoulder, but on his last turn, a bat hammers him in the nose. Out cold, his shirt inches above his belt. As his body his dragged, we get a glimpse of a mark on his stomach that we begin looking for throughout the film.
Four years pass and we are introduced to the clumsy trio of Justin (Zachery Byrd), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and David (Zack Weiner), who seek to join a fraternity. None of the sought after fraternities shows interest in the guys. However, one community of brothers, the Krypteia, welcome them to a party with booze and flirtatious women. Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror if we left off with amusement and areolas. So where’s the fear? Well, as the film progresses, it showcases that everyone has different breaking points when it comes to what they will do to get what they want. It makes us reconsider what most of us have once thought: What would we endure to pledge to a fraternity or sorority? Drinking unfamiliar liquids? Eating a strange, chunky substance that makes you vomit at the mere smell of it? Or submitting a fellow pledge to pain?
One exceptional divergence from the norm is that this film often confused you as to who was the main cast. Sometimes the focus changed, giving almost everyone equal attention. This forced you to feel that anyone, including you, could be in this situation. Due to this, there are too many actors to name in this review. Most of the actors have been in various roles throughout the industry, so it was good to see them all in one place. One surprise is Cameron Cowperthwaite, from American Horror Story Cult. Another is the forever cool Jean-Louis Droulers from the creative group Cook Thugless, whose songs Junk Stew, Net Worthless and Pu$$y Money Bling were featured in the film. (Cook Thugless for life!)
Furthermore, there is way too much talent behind the making of this film. Zackary Weiner (actor and writer) and Daniel Robbins (director) worked together in Uncaged (2016) and are two of the founders behind the film’s production company, Stag Pictures. Michael Gelfand and Mark Rapaport, also founders of Stag Pictures, serve as producers of Pledge (and have Beta Bro cameos in the film). J.D. Lifshitz and Raphael Margules (Boulderlight Pictures) serve as executive producers. [In 2010, Dread Central interviewed a 17-year-old Lifshitz for his feature directorial debut Killed on the Fourth of July (read it here), so we are happy to see him behind this film.] Cinematographer William Babcock shines from the intro drone scene to the end. In one particular scene involving Justin, Ethan and David; Babcock shoots a hilly street as if it is the ocean’s horizon. Lastly, I must commend Jon Natchez, whose musical score gives a Stranger Things vibe with its 80s feel.
Recently, we have seen an upturn of young filmmakers doing terrific work without the typical Hollywood resources. Director Robbins and the team are among these filmmakers, showcasing originality with their film Pledge. Definitely check it out as soon as you can.
The horror thriller Pledge is gory, remorseless and deceitful.