SXSW FILM 2010
By JP Chapman | April 1, 2010
Director: Will Canon
Writers: Will Canon, Douglas Simon
Starring: Jon Foster, Trevor Morgan, Arlen Escaparta, Lou Taylor Pucci
Fellow SLSS writer Don Simpson probably overheard it best from a fellow passenger on one of his many SXSW bus rides in regards to Will Canon’s Brotherhood. Brotherhood carried with it the unique distinction of being both one of the festival’s most talked about indie films, and also being “that one” film that felt like it was trying extra hard to be a big budget/mainstream endeavor. In a film festival like SXSW this is often a two-edged sword, robbing a film of some its street cred, but also allowing the viewer to feel like you might be getting a first look at something that a lot of people will be talking about down the road. While I don’t think Brotherhood is poised to be any sort of Hollywood blockbuster, it definitely gave notice to Will Cannon as a director to watch, and stood out as one of the more fun “rides” of the festival.
Filmed in Arlington, TX, Brotherhood follows a group of young men as they traverse the pledge process to a local fraternity. However; this is no basic binge-drinking session to prove manhood and dedication. Rather, we jump straight to the back of a van as a gun and ski mask are passed out to the pledges. It is quickly revealed that in this final phase of their initiation process, the pledges first have to prove themselves by heading into a convenience store and demanding an absurdly small amount of money. In a state of panic, the pledges look to each other for reassurance, but quickly cave to peer pressure. Following the young would-be robbers as they begin to enter the store, it is revealed that there is another fraternity brother waiting around a corner to stop them and send them back to the remaining pledges in the van and safety (without revealing that they didn’t have to actually rob the store). All goes according to plan, and the group moves on from one convenience store to another, allowing each pledge to have a shot at proving their worth. As the final pledge heads in to the final convenience store, things start to go terribly wrong though. After too much time passes, the brother leading the initiation realizes that the brother that should have been in place to stop the final pledge has gone to the wrong convenience store. He rushes in to stop the pledge from getting himself entangled in an actual crime, but by that time it is too late. From there, things grow worse and worse and worse. As the tension in the convenience store escalates, the young pledge is shot in the shoulder, and the other brothers manage to in turn wrestle a previously hidden weapon from the clerk and knock him out. From here on out, Brotherhood follows the pledges and brothers as they fight amongst each other to somehow get out of this situation without getting the law involved. This involves not taking their shot pledge to the hospital, kidnapping the convenience store clerk, and many other increasingly worse events.
Without a doubt, Brotherhood was a fun film to watch. Carrying with it the roller-coaster experience present in many suspense films, you find yourself waiting for the next terrible thing to happen in voyeuristic anticipation. The problem with this roller-coaster experience, is that it gives the film a “seen it before” feeling. Director Will Canon definitely knows how to command a film set and do a lot with not a lot of money, but this already ridden “roller-coaster” ride is where the aforementioned negative aspects of an indie film that feels like a big budget movie come into play. While there is some interesting interplay between characters, all too many of them feel one-dimensional and like “token” college movie stereotypes. I can’t fault Canon too much though, because I don’t think he was going for any psychological masterpiece/experience. Rather, I think he was trying to make a fun, suspenseful film that led you to wonder how far its characters would actually take things. And that is precisely what Brotherhood is. While it’s not the greatest artistic achievement of SXSW, it’s absolutely a fun movie-watching experience. Was this worthy of being one of the most talked about films of SXSW? I don’t really think so. However; it stands as a film that makes me hope that Will Canon is given a shot at something bigger in the near future, as I think we’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg in regards to what he’s capable of.