haze movie
Photo from the film Haze.

Gravitas Ventures
Director: David Burkman
Written by: David Burkman
Cast: Kirk Curran, Mike Blejer, Jeremy O’Shea, Kristin Rogers, Sophia Medley, Callie
Screened at:Critics’ link, NYC, 10/4/17
Opens: October 13, 2017

Attending an out-of-town college is a privilege enjoyed by people with the luck to have parents with money, or the desire of young people to take on huge amounts of debt. It’s a privilege now and was a privilege when I went. Things were different in my day. Girls had curfews, 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Saturday. If you wanted the dean of women to attend a dance as chaperone, you had to send a car to pick her up. Fraternity life as depicted in David Burkman’s “Haze” transmits something like what I experienced at Phi Epsilon Pi, but while I thought twenty-year-olds would be more mature now than they were then, I was mistaken, because the Psi Theta Epsilon house in “Haze” functions in the same way, same pledging of freshmen, but everything has become harsher. Physical punishment, never indulged by the brothers when I pledged, is shown here to involve slaps on the face, paddles on the butt, even spits in the face, all meted out by the brothers to the newcomers eager to join the house.

Burkman, in his first project as director of a full-length movie, presents a colorful view of the hell that the pledges have to go through during the months before acceptance as brothers. The rationalization that fraternities have always used to justify putting a pledge class through training as though they are trying out to be Navy Seals is that it bonds the freshmen with one another, as they all take the same crap from the members of the fraternity, though I think Burkman goes further in showing the brutishness of people with authority. Still, life in a Greek house is not without pleasures for everyone from frosh through seniors, as the party-loving sorority girls are frequently invited for parties, all drinking like fish and puking, all seeming to indulge in and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh just like the men.

If you’ve seen John Landis’s 1978 movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” you know what you’re getting in for, though Landis projected comedy throughout while “Haze” takes itself more seriously. Call it a dramedy, if you will, though the producers project this as a reincarnation of Greek tragedy, which it isn’t despite references to Dionysus, the god of animal pleasures. The only item that could be called Greek tragedy—which involves deaths of heroes—occurs in the opening scene showing that one pledge died a year earlier while the brothers forced humongous amounts of alcohol down his throat.

Nick (Kirk Curran) is the film’s center, a good-looking boy who grew up in a leafy suburb and is now pledging the Psi Theta Epsilon house. He loves the partying and is able to tolerate the hazing practices, despite knowing about the death of a pledge the previous year. He’s teased by sorority sisters, particularly Sophie (Sophia Medley), but he seems to want only friendship from Mimi (Kristin Rogers) though Mimi is in love with Pete. The romantic triangles, the looks of jealousy by Mimi when Nick is indulging himself with other women, all take a back seat to the parties thrown by the Psy Theta’s and the punishments accepted by the eight pledges. At the same time some insight is provided into sorority life where the freshmen women pledges are called skanks and bitches, but suffer no concerted move to make them drink to oblivion. The whole scene comes off like a year-round Spring Break, which makes us wonder why these people during the best years of their lives would want to go to Cancun they’ll experience little more than the same thing offered by college.

On a side note, the campus is said to be a dry one, with the administrator together with the campus police strangely clueless about the prohibited alcohol that is part and parcel of every party. How could Dean Cadmar (Brian St. August) raid the fraternity house backed up by campus police and, notwithstanding the way the residents stashe the booze in another room, not smell the beer?

This is an entertaining frolic, though the drama aspect takes a back seat to the comedy. Writer-director David Burkman wants to project the movie with the theme of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae,” about the Dionysian revelry of the gods with King Pentheus acting as the party pooper, but that’s a stretch. Nobody dies in the end, and if Burkman uses the orgies to remind us of the Greek tragedies, than couldn’t any fraternity-house revelry such as found in “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Old School,” and the aforementioned “Animal House” be promoted as a reenactment of Greek drama?

Rated R. 111 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B+

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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