Film Scouts Reviews

"Frat House"

by Richard Schwartz

"Brotherhood." "Bonding." "Loyalty."

Ask any fraternity brother about his involvement in the Greek system and you're likely to receive these simple responses. But inquire how the semester-long ritual of pledging yields such results and the answers will seem far more complicated. Most frequently, you'll be told that you can't truly understand the merits of pledging until you've actually undergone the experience.

Young filmmakers Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland heard that sentiment enough times and set out to gain a greater understanding of the Greek system by documenting the often bizarre and very secretive rites of fraternity intitation. Their findings make up "Frat House," a telling and often humorous HBO-financed documentary that should really hit home with the college crowd and surprise quite a few parents as well.

Initially, Phillips and Gurland were granted unparalleled access by a couple fraternities at unidentified colleges. Their glimpses inside rush events, chapter meetings, striptease parties and hazing sessions expose an atmosphere of misogyny and coercion, headgames and activities bordering on physical torture. As the documentarians began to get closer to the hazing, however, the once-inviting fraternities became ever hostile and threatening. Phillips and Gurland were forced to pack up and find another fraternity who would allow cameras into the house under one condition - that the filmmakeres participate in the pledging themselves.

"Frat House" takes us all the way through the final painful test known as "Hell Week" as the filmmakers seek to discover the answer to their question, "Why do men go to such great lengths to belong to a group?" We emerge with a certain confusion that sheds little light on that question, but that's exactly the point. Initiates struggle to provide sensible answers as well, instead returning to such one-word responses as "respect" and "brotherhood."

One of the film's highlights is a clever juxtaposition of the riotous rituals of fraternity pledging and the relatively tame activities of sorority initiation. As the lovely ladies of Sigma Delta Tau fake tears and struggle to remember the lyrics to their sisterhood anthem, the pledges of the Beta Chi fraternity are pushed to the brink of physical torture by their unforgiving "hellmaster." The hilarious collation makes one wish Phillips and Gurland had only pushed the pan-hellenic angle further, but perhaps they are saving that for the sequel, "Sorority House." I can't wait.

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