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Hazing, a ritual over 500 years old that continues to take place today with athletic teams, on high school and college campuses, and even in our military. Most commonly associated with college fraternities, hazing has been front page of newspapers three times already this year as a result of alleged hazing deaths. So it was only a matter of time until someone produced a gritty, in-your-face look at college fraternity hazing. Enter writer and director David Burkman’s independently-released HAZE.

Following a group of eight freshmen who choose to pledge Psi Theta Epsilon to find “lifelong friends”, form “unbreakable bonds”, and, of course, party, HAZE provides the most realistic, and at times, unwatchable portrait of hazing today. Burkman highlights the irony of fraternities that preach Trust, Respect, and Loyalty, yet put their pledges through the most humiliating situations imaginable to teach such important fraternity pillars.

At the center of the story are Nick (Kirk Curran), a good looking, smart, and charismatic freshman, who excitedly decides to pledge Psi Theta Epsilon and his brother, Pete (Mike Blejer), an upperclassman, who is outspoken in his attempts to rid the campus of fraternities through his production of a documentary about a student’s hazing-related death. Despite being on opposite ends of the debate, both are forced to see each other’s side as a result of events that occur during the film.

Unlike the 2016 James Franco-produced Goat, which casted seasoned actors, including musician Nick Jonas and Franco himself, Burkman succeeds over the bigger-budgeted Goat by casting local and unknown actors. Without preconceived notions of the actors and by casting age-appropriate actors, HAZE better portrays an inside-look at fraternity hazing. It’s realistic look at how fraternity members utilize rewards (lap dances) to validate a punishment (drinking a fellow pledge’s spit) highlight why young adults put themselves through brutish situations. This punishment-reward process, as Burkman shared during a post-screening Q&A, helps explains why we allow ourselves to be subjected to such cruelty when we clearly know its not right. That and human nature of wanting to be a part of something, be accepted.

Despite its graphic portrayal of hazing, HAZE is a movie that high school and college students should see. It has already been screened throughout the country, often on college campuses where fraternities and sororities are viewing the film and then debating the existence of hazing on their campus. Credit Burkman for trying to start this important conversation.

That young people should see this film does not remove its blemishes. Many times the film feels like a cheap mix of an after school special and MTV’s The Hills with a bit of Homeland‘s interrogation tactics thrown in for extra measure.

It’s subplot that revolves around Nick’s best friend, Mimi (Kristin Rogers) and their relationship feels out-of-place, adding little to the story except to highlight the foolish decisions people make to gain the attention of an object of desire. It takes away from the message that fraternity hazing has gotten out of control and that campuses need to do something about it.

Perhaps all is not lost, however. Just last week, the University of Michigan indefinitely suspended all parties and pledging activities as a result of recent events on campus. The move should not be applauded as it was a result of many hospital visits, drugging allegations, sexual misconduct, and hazing incidents, however, it is a step forward in that it occurred without a student needing to die and the decision was made by the student-run Interfraternity Council.

To reduce hazing across the country, high schools, college campuses, and national fraternities need to continue to educate on the dangers and idiocy of hazing and, equally important, on how fraternities can remain relevant in absence of such behavior. Here’s to HAZE helping with that conversation without anyone dying in the process.

HAZE may be found in limited theatrical release, via Cable on Demand, and on Video on Demand services, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube, and more.

Haze is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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