The Line Review: Alex Wolff And Halle Bailey In College Drama That Ought To Turn You Off Frat Packs Forever Tribeca Film Festival

There have been plenty of movies detailing life in a fraternity – Animal House being the crown jewel of all, no matter how outrageously funny. The newest entry in the genre, The Line which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend, is not trying to amuse on any level , a deadly serious take on college frat houses that looks like it was ripped straight from the many headlines about hazing deaths and horrific goings-on at these places.

However for at least its first half to first two thirds this feature film debut for director Ethan Berger who also co-wrote the script with Alex Russek, is aiming to entertain for much of its running time with a look at the fictional southern Kappa Nu Alpha Fraternity in all its vile, sick , crass ugliness. If the goal was to make us hate these guys the filmmakers succeed admirably. By the end I wanted see every last one of them expelled and the house shut down for good. What it seems to be saying, no matter how egregious the behavior, is that only the faces change over time, not the attitude. The deck is stacked in The Line, but the ultimate message (which is you are best to steer clear of the frat world at all costs) comes through loud and clear.

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Our protagonist, such as he is, is Tom (Alex Wolff) who seems somewhat conflicted about his membership in the fraternity as he begins his sophmore year with obnoxious (and that is being kind) and thoroughly repulsive and unbearable roommate and BFF Mitch (Bo Mitchell) who is egging him on to be just as gross as he is. The others who would be right at home in Lord Of The Flies don’t seem to be much better (they all could be future Trumpers), at least in the 2014 scenario laid out here, and that includes the student leader of KNA, Todd (Lewis Pullman) who is trying to keep the place out of trouble and has been sternly warned there is not to be hazing of any kind that will be tolerated by University officials. Of course you know there will be or you don’t have a movie.

For the most part these guys fit the stereotype we see in fraternity films: misogynistic cokeheads, racist, sexist, homophobic and generally repugnant human beings. Berger and Russek serve up a lot of this , almost to the point where The Line crosses the line before the real trouble – and heart of the action – starts. That all centers around a new, and take-no-bullshit pledge named Gettys (Austin Abrams) who we are told by Todd is desired by every frat house on Greek row, but Mitch is having none of that and will lead the charge against him to make sure this dude is hazed to within an inch of his life. Then there is the person they shorthand as the “black lesbian”, Annabelle ( The Little Mermaid’s Halle Bailey) who strikes up a dialogue with Tom, but is right to be skeptical about him and his buddies. She still manages to give Tom what humanity he appears to have.

The meat of it all comes during the inevitable, and well-detailed hazing scene as things rock out of control (think West Side Story’s rumble) and an accidental death (or maybe not so accidental) occurs and freaks everyone out. Their attempts to hide the evidence (ie the body) and avoid responsibility lead to confrontation with the cops led by the chief detective (Scoot McNairy). Will anyone get blamed? Will Tom see the light? Will Kappa Nu Alpha be banned? It is not so black and white, just as life isn’t either. A touch of real life in fact happens over the end credits as we see acknowledgement of the horrendous death caused by hazing of Penn State’s Timothy Piazza whose devastated parents cooperated and seemingly encouraged the making of this film, even though it is otherwise fictional. It was a smart move to add this as a reminder that this sort of activity is not just in the movies.

Shot during covid in just three weeks, give props to Berger for getting his first feature up there on the screen and impressively cast as well. Wolff, always one to watch, bites into this role and nails it, as does Bailey in a role that couldn’t be further from her current box office hit, The Little Mermaid. Pullman is excellent, and I was really impressed with Abrams who is one of those young actors who can steal any scene he is in. He’s going places. Angus Cloud gets the stoner role, and some well known performers turn up briefly along the way including Mitch’s wealthy parents John Malkovich and Denise Richards, as well as Cheri Oteri.

All in, The Line which is one of the Tribeca titles looking for distribution (and is likely to get it) serves as a calling card for Berger who shows promise with this first effort and a real eye for talent, no matter how unpleasant spending time with this bunch ultimately is. Producers are Alexandre Dauman, Jack Parker, Adam Paulsen, and Lije Sarki.

Title: The Line

Festival: Tribeca Film Festival

Director: Ethan Berger

Screenplay: Ethan Berger, Alex Russek

Cast: Alex Wolff Lewis Pullman, Halle Bailey, Austin Abrams, Angus Cloud, Scoot McNairy, John Malkovich, Denise Richards, Cheri Oteri, Bo Mitchell

Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Sales Agent: CAA Media Finance Group, UTA Independent Film Group

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