Fantasia Film Festival 2018 Review: PLEDGE

PLEDGE, the latest film from director Daniel Robbins (Uncaged), centers around a group of college freshmen who find out just how dangerous pledging to a fraternity can truly be. The film stars Zachary Byrd (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Phillip Andre Botello (Criminal Minds), Aaron Dalla Villa (Duels), Zack Weiner (Uncaged), and Cameron Cowperthwaite (American Horror Story).

All David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd), and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) want is to be part of a fraternity. Though likable and good-natured, they just don’t have the “socially acceptable” panache to be part of the in-crowd, despite how hard they try. As they go from one fraternity to the next, they are greeted with cold shoulders and outright rejection. On the brink of giving up, a mysterious woman invites them to a fraternity party at a secluded mansion. Figuring they have nothing to lose, they decide to go in hopes that they’ll finally get their chance to be part of a fraternity and live the ultimate college experience. However, when the hazing goes from typical bro-deprecation to something much more sinister and deadly, these three friends must work together in order to escape this mansion of terror with their lives.

This is one of my favorite films to come out of Fantasia so far, which was a total surprise because I thought it was going to be a run-of-the-mill teen slasher. Instead, it’s a brilliantly crafted thriller which includes superb acting, dark humor, loads of violence, rats, and entitled frat boys you’ll love to hate. There is a lot to uncover with PLEDGE, but the most glaring is the white male privilege that so many fraternities subscribe to as well as how far people are willing to go to be accepted into a society that can be just as damaging as it is good.

What really won me over with this film was the acting. It’s hard not to love our three leads who desperately want to be accepted. Sure, they are foolish and naive, but as someone who has never been accepted into the “cool” crowd, I understood where their desires to be like everyone else came from. Then we have our antagonists Max (Aaron Dalla Villa), Bret (Jesse Pimentel) and Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite) who are the epitome of white male privilege, drenched in wealth and entitlement. I hated them from the get-go, but at the same time I found myself drawn to their charisma. They know exactly the type of people to hunt for and they do so expertly without any regard to the consequences of their actions. The juxtaposition between our two main groups, the “elite” and the “losers”, becomes incredibly apparently once the hazing rituals begin and any notion of comradery is thrown right out the window. It’s almost like watching a wolf stalking a sheep, preparing for the kill…. only to find out that some sheep know how to outsmart the wolf.

For fans of gore and violence, you will definitely get your fill with PLEDGE. Once the hazing begins, the rituals become more and more intense and require more and more bloodshed. As someone who gets really weirded out by certain foods and/or food-like substances, there were a few instances in which my stomach actually turned. Oh, and don’t forget the rats, because those definitely come into play in a very grotesque way. However, I didn’t think the use of gore was to over-the-top nor did I think it overshadowed the story. As much as I can be iffy about the use of gratuitous gore, I felt as though PLEDGE did a good job of keeping it aligned with how the story was unfolding.

Overall, I thought PLEDGE was a fantastic thriller that kept me entertained and on edge throughout its entire duration, and even surprised me at the end. With solid acting from the entire cast and a terrific script from writer Zack Weiner, it’s easy to see how this film was executed so well at the hands of director Daniel Robbins. Of course it still has its flaws, but there weren’t enough to deter my overall enjoyment of the film. Horror fans will definitely want to seek this film out once it has finished its festival circuit.

PLEDGE had its World Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 24, 2018.

Shannon McGrew
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