Initiation will appeal to those with a love for Urban Legend, Scream 2, and several other college campus-based horror films. Initiation may be another slasher film, but it has a message for those that want to sweep sexual assault under the rug. Now, many films have touched on these subjects in the past, but Initiation’s decision to go for a more nuanced approach is refreshing to see. The slasher resurgence continues with this surprisingly engaging new addition.
People will only sit back and watch for so long when it relates to crimes that are ignored countless times. Initiation takes pleasure in exploring that breaking point, and while the characters involved aren’t that fleshed out, it still delivers the gory fun you’d expect from a slasher film. Directed and co-written by John Berardo, the film stars Froy Gutierrez, Lochlyn Munro, Yancy Butler, Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, and Lindsay LaVanchy. After the death of star athlete, Wes Scott (Gutierrez), Whiton University’s dark secrets are threatened. His sister, Ellery Scott (LaVanchy) finds herself in the mix of it all as a killer begins slashing their way through the campus.
Berardo and his co-writer have managed to put together a story that will keep you guessing. The downfall in this narrative is found in how flat the characters are, and this isn’t a discredit to the solid performances. Ellery is the sorority final girl that spends most of the film in shock and denial about the controversy surrounding her brother’s recent demise. She’s a very likable character but just seems unfinished by the end of the film. The decision to take a subtle approach to the themes in Initiation helps eliminate the chance of being too forceful with its message. Sexual assault, cyberbullying, and toxic masculinity on college campuses are all addressed during this film.
Once the hooded figure is revealed, some viewers may be shocked at how the film subverts your expectations. The puzzle is being pieced together little by little, and certain details may go overlooked that you’ll notice during a second viewing. Initiation sets up two prominent issues, one being the killer on campus, and the unity of it all, in the end, is more than satisfying. Ellery’s role in the film is important, as the sister of Wes, and the writers could have chosen to go with her friend, Kylie, to lead the film since she has an important role too. However, between what Kylie endures and Wes’ death, Ellery becomes a more suitable fit, as viewers get to develop sympathy for her while she searches for answers regarding two people she cares about.
LaVanchy embodies the final girl trope with ease, Ellery might be an underdeveloped protagonist to follow, but the performance delivered makes up for that. Her powerful performance makes it easy to feel for Ellery, as she attempts to uncover the truth behind her brother’s death. Her sorority sisters deliver adequate performances as well but aren’t made to feel that important. However, Gomez who stars as Kylie shines in her role as she struggles to come to terms with what happened to her during a party. One scene, in particular, amplifies the enormous amount of anxiety her character is suffering from. Berardo’s direction is sort of jumbled here, and some moments without the bloodshed feel lifeless. He can deliver a fun blend of drama and tension for the most part, but the pacing can grow tiresome.
Initiation delivers the slasher goods horror fans are looking for but doesn’t go without hiccups along the way. The underlying message in the film is made abundantly clear, and Berardo has shown his strengths with this outing. It wouldn’t be shocking if the film goes overlooked only to develop a cult following many years later. The film won’t be spawning the next big slasher, but it still is worth watching for its surprisingly engaging story.