A group of college freshmen pledge an exclusive fraternity but soon realize there’s more at stake than they could have ever imagined.

It’s Rush Week at the university and friends Ethan, (Phillip Andre Botello) David (Zack Weiner), and Justin (Zachery Byrd) are looking to pledge. It doesn’t really help that they are misfits (see Interesting). Wandering from one frat house to the next, the trio suffers one painful rejection after another until they are invited to a raging party at a mansion by a random and very out-of-their-league member of the student body. So starts the savage and briskly paced horror thriller Pledge.

The surprise isn’t what’s coming, because we can see that a mile away. Hot chick invites a group of aimless nerds to a swanky mansion for a party filled with impeccably dressed revelers and endless booze in the hopes of joining a super-elite fraternity. The surprise is the remarkable script from screenwriter (Zack Weiner) and the sharp-eyed direction from Daniel Robbins who work to take an idea we have seen a million times before and turn out something new and fiercely entertaining.

Hot chick invites a group of aimless nerds to a swanky mansion for a party filled with impeccably dressed revelers…”

So, getting back to our poor saps, they get to the mansion, and a swarming group of beautiful people invites them in for fun. Max (Aaron Dalla Villa), Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite), and Bret (Jesse Pimentel) do their stilted best to remain formal, yet engaging hosts. Upbeat and always dangling the carrot of inclusion in front of Ethan, David, Justin, and two other nerds who have also been plucked from the social fringes, Max invites the five back to pledge for their elite fraternity.

Like moths to the flame, the five return to the mansion the next night and the hazing begins. We watch, as with any horror movie, in abject dismay that the red flags are ignored, as the fraternity demands more and more with each passing moment from the new inductees. Then things get really messed up.

Script and direction are remarkable here, but the performances by our three leads are what ultimately sells us on the story. When the story begins, we are immediately sold on these characters and their history together. The three have phenomenal chemistry, and the performances by Botello, Weiner, and Byrd do a lot of the heavy lifting in selling us on the rapport that these three have. We buy into them. Hence we buy into their desperate search to belong.

“…looks like a million bucks even though it was probably made for a fraction of that.”

Pledge looks like a million bucks even though it was probably made for a fraction of that.  William Babcock’s lensing delivers a posh, Upstate look that could be Anywhere, U.S.A. Of course, this is also in part because of clean production design from Clarisa Garcia-Fresco and the delightful, practical makeup effects by Tanyusha Bogun.

Watching Pledge, I almost felt like I had found the loophole in the system and discovered that it doesn’t take a big budget or a recognizable IP to sell a ticket. I was wholly entertained from the start to the finish of this lean, yet strangely funny story of the need to belong and the lengths we could go to become a member of a tribe. Of any tribe for that matter.

I have to say that I recommend signing up to take this pledge.

Pledge (2018) Directed by Daniel Robbins. Written by Zack Weiner, Starring Zachery Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Zack Weiner, Erica Boozer, Aaron Dalla Villa, Cameron Cowperthwaite, Jesse Pimentel.

7 out of 10 stars

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