'Goat' Will Make You Think Twice About Greek Life, Say Stars Nick Jonas & Ben Schnetzer

One of the most talked-about movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival is coming to theaters on Sept. 23, and its impending release is guaranteed to keep the conversation going. Goat , a new drama starring Ben Schnetzer (Pride, Snowden) as a college freshman and Nick Jonas as his frat-member older brother, is a harrowing look at the dark side of campus culture, and its searing depictions of hazing, violence, and the terrifying truth of what "brotherhood" can truly mean are stirring up plenty of chatter — not to mention more than a few stunned gasps. Yet that's exactly what the film's stars say they had in mind when they signed on to their roles.

"It’s a pretty relentless film, and we know that it’s not gonna be an easy film to watch, but that’s what we set out to make," says Schnetzer, sitting down beside Jonas at New York's Soho Grand Hotel on a mid-September morning. "We set out to make something uncompromising."

Adds Jonas, "We hoped to make a great film and do something that would challenge people’s thinking, and I think we accomplished that."

Upon the film's Sundance debut, both Schnetzer and Jonas won acclaim for their performances, with Schnetzer, especially, earning raves for his powerful turn as a teen recovering from assault, only to enter a new world of violence when he pledges his brother's fraternity. What happens to him is not to be spoiled here, but suffice to say that it's oftentimes impossible to watch, a hugely affecting — and terrifying — look at Greek life gone out of control. The film tackles that concept head-on, exploring the notion that frat life can encourage dangerous, uber-masculine behavior, creating a culture in which the idea of "brotherhood" means inflicting both emotional and physical pain in order to prove loyalty. For Schnetzer, the film's real-life implications are what make the movie's plotline so interesting, and so important.

"Rites of passage, these kind of quests for manhood, it’s a natural thing, everybody feels it," he says. "But when you add in an unnatural kind of pack mentality power dynamic to it, that’s when things change a bit. The stakes are higher."

No one film is going to completely alter the way centuries-old college systems are run, of course, but both stars are optimistic that Goat will at least have an impact. "I’m hopeful that the film starts an even bigger conversation, maybe even becomes a tool for people to see what the dark side of fraternity culture looks like," Jonas says. Due to the success of his music career, the star never went to college himself, but knowing what he knows now, he says that if he had, he's not sure if he would've ever joined a frat. Still, he adds, with his interest in sports, hazing is "something I think I would’ve been exposed to on some level."

And as Goat makes all to clear, that's a truly terrifying prospect — one that, until now, has rarely been showed in such unflinching light on-screen.

Images: Paramount Pictures