“HAZE,” David Burkman’s gut-wrenching film, offers a striking condemnation of the dark underbelly of fraternity and sorority life.
The film opens on a college campus reeling from the tragic death of a student as a result of a hazing ritual gone wrong.
In response to the event, sophomore Pete Frost, played by Mike Blejer, becomes the leader of an anti-hazing movement on campus, putting his brother Nick’s pledgeship with Psi Theta Epsilon at risk. Nick, played by Kirk Curran, has to face humiliation, pain, sexual harassment and torture to regain his future fraternity brothers’ trust — that is, if he makes it out of hell week alive.
In an industry filled with movies that glorify hazing rituals in Greek life, such as “Animal House” and “Neighbors,” “HAZE” is a rare film that shows skepticism toward Greek letter organizations. Inspired by director David Burkman’s personal experiences with fraternity life, the drama delves into the topics of hazing, alcohol abuse, sexual assault and academic failure caused by association with fraternities and sororities.
Despite the film’s fictional nature, the topics it concerns are grounded in reality. The Journal of Interpersonal Violence conducted a study that found that fraternity brothers were 300 percent more likely to rape and that sorority members were 74 percent more likely to be victims of rape. This study is one of three formal studies supporting these numbers.
“HAZE” uses the lens of a thriller film to invite the audience members to take a look at their own campuses and examine them under similar standards. It asks the viewer, “Could this be possible on your campus?”
“HAZE” terrifies the viewer in a way many thrillers fail to do. It shows what normal people are capable of when they are put in a potentially secretive, exclusive and independent environment.
The terror and desperation of the film come to a climax in the last half hour, when Nick and his pledge mates are put through hell week. A horrific strobing sequence of pledges being beaten, branded and forced to drink until they vomit unfolds in front of the viewer, and it is impossible to look away.
Despite the strong message “HAZE” sends, some of its character development falls short. For example, throughout the film, the viewer is told time and time again that Mimi, played by Kristin Rogers, is Nick’s best friend since childhood, but this is never enforced with any action.
Similarly, Mimi’s storyline of being raped at a party and her disillusionment with the sorority system feels like it has a huge chunk taken out of it and never sees a conclusion. The film makes a few comments about how sorority members are likely to be victims of rape and body shaming, but it never finishes the story arc, which is the biggest waste of potential in the film.
Overall, “HAZE” is a film worth watching for everyone — Greek and non-Greek.
“HAZE” is available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Vudu.