Who doesn’t enjoy a little Euripides with their breakfast cereal or, in this case, with their unrelenting celluloid exploration of sadistic, on-campus initiations? Of course, hazing has been ceaselessly explored in the news each time there’s a new frat and in previous efforts such as Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland’s documentary Frat House (1998) and John Landis’ comedy Animal House (1978). Even the Lifetime channel (The Haunting of Sorority Row (2007)) and one of this year’s best movies (Prof. Marston and the Wonder Women) have taken out their paddles, exploring the female side of these rituals. However, seldom has Dionysus and the Bacchae been incorporated into the subject matter.
(Please note that Tennessee Williams was inspired by the same source material for Suddenly Last Summer, a tale of lobotomies, cannibalism, and repressed homosexuality. Sounds very much like a fraternity initiation in the end, doesn’t it?) Indeed, few films, if any, have gone where writer/director David Burkman has fearlessly ventured with his game cast. Urination, defecation, paddling, scavenger hunts, branding, and mistreatment of a canine are just the bonuses. There’s also nonstop alcohol guzzling, heterosexual orgies, whip-cream hats, cellophane bondage, countless bare male butts, and most frightening of all, virile young men forced to scream out, “I’m a pretty, little princess.” All this is autobiographical, by the way.
The praiseworthy Burkman avows in the film’s press notes, “ Haze is based on my own experience pledging a fraternity in college. I knew that the late-night lineups and forced alcohol consumption, the blindfolds and secrets, the physical endurance tests, being submerged in industrial-sized trash cans filled with ice water, vomit and human refuse, being spit on, force fed undrinkable concoctions of who knows what, the psychological mind games and abuse, and my own willingness to endure it all would serve to tell a very powerful story.” Sort of sounds a bit like auditioning for Miramax.
The plot of Haze that accompanies all of these body fluids is basically simple. There are two brothers. Nick Forest (the highly cute Kirk Curran) wants to join a fraternity. His sibling, Pete (the equally attractive Mike Blejer), is anti-frat, and is helming a documentary about the evils of pledge life. Those interviewed for the doc act as sort of a Greek chorus, warning Nick and his peers of what they are going to get into if they would only bother to listen. Taylor (the rather charismatic Jeremy O’Shea) is the head of the frat, Epsilon, and acts as the Dionysus figure here, egging on all sorts of debaucheries plus about 30 minutes of binge drinking and 40 more of demeaning women. One young lass (Kristin Rogers), after a night of sexual humiliation, is told by a sorority sister that she heard “your pussy looks like a pile of roast beef.”
The built-in problem with films such as Haze is that although its audience is being warned against the inhumane atrocities inherent to the pledge system, the same audience is only watching the film to get off on the abuses. The highly edited finale with its sudden shocks, to the pitch of awe and terror, definitely carry home one classic professor’s warning that can be learned from the Bacchae: “Don’t fuck with the Gods.” - Brandon Judell
Haze has just become obtainable on DVD + BLU-RAY. It’s also available on Video On Demand (e.g. Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu) and Cable on Demand (DirecTV, Dish Network, Cox).
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.