On one hand, we’re only three months into 2019, and horror has already given us a few strong theatrical releases. Escape Room, Happy Death Day 2U, and the upcoming Us – that’s a lot better than early 2018’s Winchester or The Strangers: Prey at Night. But streaming platforms have felt a little light on good indie horror. Fortunately, IFC Midnight has come to the rescue, releasing the anticipated Pledge to VOD-platforms this week. So far critics have been surprisingly impressed with this college horror outing.
David and his roommates, Ethan and Justin, are hoping to pledge the right fraternity during Rush Week. With each party, however, fraternity after fraternity rejects the nerdy trio. But just as the three freshman are ready to call it a day, a mysterious campus organization gives them an opportunity to pledge. Soon what looks like typical hazing escalates to something far more horrific. Getting out of this fraternity may be harder than getting in.
Pledge is a Tense Hazing Experience
At a mere 77 minutes, Pledge is a lean, well-paced illustration of survival horror. Director Daniel Robbins wastes little time setting Zack Weiner’s story in motion. Nothing about this movie is necessarily unique or innovative Think Revenge of The Nerds meets ‘Torture Porn’. Pledge, with its story of social elites exploiting freshman outsiders, recalls recent movies like Would You Rather. Though it doesn’t boast a unique premise, Robbins’ tight execution leaves little time for drawing these comparisons.
…Weiner’s script delivers one nice twist in the movie’s final act.
Most importantly, Pledge makes up for a lack of originality with genuinely uncomfortable and suspenseful scenarios. As the hazing begins, Robbins refuses to let the movie’s momentum slow down. One cringeworthy moment is quickly followed by another with an ample amount of atmosphere and tension accompanying these scenes. In addition, Weiner’s script delivers one nice twist in the movie’s final act. It’s not a game-changing twist, but it does add an extra layer to the movie’s exploration of people’s desperate need to belong.
Pledge is a Less Visceral Experience Than Some Of Its Contemporaries
Where Pledge may divide audiences is its approach to the violent subject matter. Perhaps the easiest classification for this college horror movie is ‘Torture Porn’ or, alternatively, ‘survival horror’. There are a few good traditional jump scares, but Robbins is more invested in focusing on what’s happening to his young college freshman characters. Yet Pledge lacks some of the visceral innovation of movies like Eli Roth’s Hostel and Green Inferno, or punk rock horror, Green Room. Don’t get me wrong. At least one scene in the movie will test viewers’ gag reflexes. Nevertheless, much of the ‘torture’ relies on what you imagine happened.
Pledge’s affable protagonists add a layer to the movie, further distinguishing it from lesser genre fare.
This shortcoming is compensated for by a much better than expected cast of characters. Unlike a lot of horror movies in this category, Pledge gives you some pretty likeable characters. Zachery Byrd (Justin) and Phillip Andre Botello (Ethan) feel like real people, making it easy to empathize with their predicament. Even Zack Weinder’s ‘David’, initially an annoyance, earns sympathy. These sympathetic characters are well contrasted with appropriately despicable ‘frat boy’ antagonists. Pledge’s affable protagonists add a layer to the movie, further distinguishing it from lesser genre fare.
Pledge Proves to be Unnerving Survival Horror
Courtesy of IFC Midnight, we finally have some good indie horror streaming in 2019. While Pledge falls a little short of more visceral survival horror, like Green Room, it’s still an intense viewing experience. Likeable characters, genuine tension, and some cringeworthy moments deliver what the movie promises. Overall, Pledge is a lean thriller that exposes the ugly side of our need to belong.