A breathless thriller from its very first frame, Will Canon’s “Brotherhood” careens forward with spastic momentum. Following a group of deranged frat boys in a single night of hazing gone awry, Canon eschews patient storytelling in favor of wall-to-wall sequences loaded with distress. The dialogue is cheap and incredulous, the plot twists seem too perfectly conceived, and it ends with a shrug rather than any kind of natural climax. But “Brotherhood” succeeds as sheer pulpy entertainment, ferociously indicting frat culture in much the same way that “Hostel” critiques rambunctious American tourism – simplistically, but not at the expense of a good time.
“Brotherhood” begins, from its very first frame, with a botched robbery intended to prove the loyalty of a new pledge. Canon gives us a flurry of cookie cutter miscreants, including our troubled anti-hero, Adam (Trevor Morgan), an inductee with major reservations about the tasks at hand. The robbery, which ends with one of the brothers dealing with a bullet in his shoulder, only serves as the start of the mayhem. When the brothers return to their house, a “Caligula”-meets-“Old School” hedonistic display, the wrong turns keep coming.
Mean-spirited sorority girls torch their lawn; a kidnapped store clerk winds up in their basement. The momentum never pauses for a breather, suggesting Canon’s reasonable ambitions as an action director, but it also never takes its subjects seriously enough to make viewers care about their problems. Anchored by Morgan’s focused performance, in addition to Lou Taylor Pucci as the villainous leader of the pack, “Brotherhood” never veers into the realm of camp – but it remains on the plane of a decent B-movie.
Close relatives of “Brotherhood” include “Very Bad Things” and “The Hangover,” movies about wannabe virile men whose partying misdeeds lead to unending disarray. But while “Very Bad Things” generates a powerful degree of discomfort from the way it manages to make you care about the issues at hand, “Brotherhood” practically makes you root for the inevitable downfall of its main men. Canon’s idiotic characters are perpetually one-dimensional, hardly prone to revealing any emotions beyond anger and fright. Never once do the proceedings stop so the viewer can learn more about these troubled college kids and their misguided ambitions. What you see is what you get.
At best, “Brotherhood” moves along with chaotic glee, swiftly careening from one mishap to another like a twisted cinematic Rube Goldberg contraption. But it lacks a much-needed sense of humor, and this increasingly unlikely premise could use some extra laughs so audiences can revel in the absurdity. For the first act, the story maintains an exhilarating sensibility that begins to fade once the mayhem grows redundant. Canon, directing his first feature, based his movie on an earlier short film, and it feels like it. He appears content with stacking sequences rather than telling a linear story. That alone, however, does not make “Brotherhood” unwatchable. Canon’s debut doesn’t suggest the emergence of a new Hitchcock, but it has enough unbridled energy to buck the need for such grandiose expectations. As a calling card, it does the trick.