Independent horror doesn’t need to go overboard when it comes to a premise. Just set the scare for something scary and then let the brutality commence. Simple is rarely a bad thing. The new indie fright flick Pledge has certainly figured out the secret sauce. A horror film set during fraternity pledging? Very little sounds more terrifying. So, watching young men suffer while trying to join a club may bring back fond memories for some, for plenty of others it sounds like literal torture, something the film just takes to the next level. The result is something slick and very compelling.
The film is a horror/thriller hybrid set on a college campus. Justin (Zachery Byrd), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello), and David (Zack Weiner) are a trio of nerdy friends looking to rush a fraternity. As they get rejected from frat after frat, despair on the part of Justin and Ethan sets in, while pseudo leader David remains undeterred. They catch the eye of a pretty co-ed who invites them to a party, something that they initially think is a joke. Well, instead it’s a gathering for one of the most exclusive fraternities on campus. Frat brothers Max (Aaron Dalla Villa), Bret (Jesse Pimental), and Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite) invite them into their mansion and in short order convince them to pledge. Then, things take a turn. You see, this isn’t a normal frat, but a social club that molds the leaders of the world. How they do that? Well, murder may well be involved. This isn’t any sort of hazing that you can prepare for…just one you can try to survive. Daniel Robbins directs a script that co-star Weiner penned. Supporting players include Erica Boozer, Jean-Louis Droulers, Joe Gallagher, and Melanie Rothman. Cinematography comes from William Babcock, while Jon Natchez composed the score.
This movie is sometimes very silly, but often it’s rather intense. Robbins and Weiner keep things very closed in and centered on the plight of our protagonists. There’s really only one short scene that leaves the house once the pledging begins. That commitment to the premise goes a long way here. When the film is being overly silly, the over the top nature is actually kind of fun. When the intense aspects of it come into play, the anxiety it can induce is rather impressive. As a calling card for the talents behind the scenes here, it should easily get them higher profile genre work in the very near future.
Pledge has a lot in common with the Hostel franchise. Less graphic, it also has a Pinocchio quality to it. Normally good boys are led astray by lust. Here, there’s an added twist, but it’s the desire for a trio of nerds to be accepted by the “cool” coeds that gets them into this mess. Eli Roth mixed more filmmaking skill as well as more blood and guts into his franchise, making this relatively chaste by comparison. It’s still occasionally gross and filled with tension, but it won’t turn off potential viewers who don’t really go in for all the gory stuff.
If you’re looking for some indie horror with an edge, Pledge could really do it for you. Horror set at college is something we don’t see that often, so there’s a slightly novel aspect to the production. In fact, if Hollywood gets to sniffing around this movie, don’t be surprised if it either gets remade or becomes a franchise in a few years time. The skeleton for that sort of thing is here. Regardless, genre fans should find plenty to like with Pledge. It doesn’t go over the top, but it doesn’t undersell the terror either. It’s well worth giving a look too.
Be sure to check out Pledge, in theaters this weekend!