The physical and psychological torture of fraternity hazing has been dramatized in movies as silly as “Animal House” and as harrowing as “Goat.” Writer-director David Burkman’s “Haze” takes a somewhat different approach, mixing melodrama and docudrama — doing a lot better with the latter than the former.
Set on a campus still reeling from the recent accidental death of a pledge, “Haze” follows a pair of collegiate brothers, Nick (Kirk Curran) and Pete (Mike Blejer), whose diverging attitudes toward the issue of hazing drive a wedge between them.
Nick pledges Psi Theta Epsilon, a venerable Greek organization seemingly determined to become the new “most notorious frat on campus.” Meanwhile, Pete’s working on a documentary about the perils of hazing, drawing on student interviews and surreptitious footage. Burkman’s fast-paced editing whips “Haze” between overwrought scenes of cartoonishly mean upperclassmen and realistic shots of teenagers abusing each other and partying until they puke.
The wild swings in tone prove to be the movie’s greatest strength and Burkman doesn’t automatically default to “these kids today” tongue-clucking. Instead he understands how kids genuinely take pride in testing themselves, and how the lure of unsupervised hedonism can lead to some terrible choices.
As a morality tale, “Haze” is old news. But as an in-the-moment explanation of how hazing happens, it’s so fresh, it’s raw.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills