Pledge (2018) [Fantasia Fest 2018]

Director Daniel Robbins’ survival college thriller is a pretty typical horror film that surprisingly takes a lot of its beats from “Hostel.” At times it almost felt like a cheap rip off. Despite some interesting ideas, “Pledge” is a pretty crummy horror offering with no real pay off to the climax and lacking any kind of protagonist during its entirety. In fact I was left with a lot of questions when the movie came to a sudden end rather than with a sense I’d been dropped in to a nightmare.

“Pledge” centers David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd), and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello), three college freshman who will do anything to get in to a fraternity. After failing to integrate in to a few college frats, they come across a beautiful young woman who invites them pledge at her exclusive frat. Deep in the woods, they meet what seems like a group of very welcoming frat guys offering them the time of their lives. But things go awry when their hazing becomes very deadly, and they quickly realize they’re being terrorized by psychopaths. Daniel Robbins’ film kind of posits the idea that what if the opening half hour of “Animal House” involving Pinto and Founder was stretched in to a ninety minute movie where they were being terrorized by the guys at Theta Pi?

What we get is a very uneven and pretty damn unpleasant horror movie that takes a lot of beats from “Hostel” almost wholesale. There’s a trio of a guys looking for a thrill, they end up at a place where they can party and be around gorgeous women and are soon the victims of guys with their own goals, and aims for torture. A lot of the movie revolves around the trio trying to survive the hazing and then stuck in a corner when they realize the frat has no intention of letting them leave to tell their tales. “Pledge” suffers from a clear lack of narrative, with a lot of holes that present themselves throughout the duration. Is this a frat? Is it a secret organization? Why did they kill the women in the frat?

Why did only a few guys sign up to pledge? Are these men actual college students, psychos, or just potential cult members? If murder gets you in the frat, then why the whole charade? And what is the point of inserting a fake pledge in the group? Beyond that there’s also the lack of a real protagonist we can root for, and what characters we have are pretty grating and annoying to watch most of the time. The writers can never decide who the movie is about, and when we get to the final scene, it’s clear they were probably never really trying to write one anyway. It’s also made very clear by the abrupt climax where the writers don’t even try to resolve the entirety of the narrative. It’s just “and then this happened. The end.” So much of “Pledge” is a dull, monotonous and comically stupid practice in an attempt to twist the classic college frat comedy, and it belly flops the moment the movie morphs in to a stalk and slash torture film.

Fantasia 2018 runs from July 12th to August 2nd, 2018.