John Berardo’s Initiation is a welcome addition to the genre By having something to say and wisely giving itself some substance, it allows the more horrific moments to be more effective. A smart script that tries to base itself in a realistic enough environment, we have characters who make choices you would expect someone would in the tighter moments. Initiation is a film that has its cake and eats it. Watch this horror immediately, it earns your time.
Whiton University unravels that a star athlete is murdered in the wake of a buried assault allegation on the night. Kicking off a spree of social media-linked slayings as a masked killer targets students across campus, a trio of sorority sisters races to uncover the truth behind the school’s hidden secrets — and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point – before they become the next victims.
Right off the bat, it needs to be said how well-written Initiation is as it veers us in multiple directions. It is a film that sets us up thinking that this will be that run of the mill slasher (we will get into that later) by having a sorority and fraternity students messing about and acting how you envision they would in a comedy or bland horror. But this is where the film takes you a different, welcome way. As the fraternity guys plan their evening and very poorly utilise social media, the sorority focuses on looking after one another. Everyone acts as responsible as you would expect at a regular party. Until at least when a critical moment strikes and again places us down a different road.
By keeping the audience on their toes, you never quite know what will happen next, and once the killings begin to occur, Initiation allows itself to be smarter and has more to it than just a by the numbers slasher. This gives the audience a little bit of work to do, and when a horror allows itself to be something more, they generally turn out to be stronger for it. Even though we love a good full-on horror, it needs to be reminded that this is one of the few genres that can stretch its legs and be something else simultaneously as it presents its message.
Initiation has the issue of having an absolute killer premise; if it were solely a drama that centred solely on the opening half of how colleges act on sexual assault of their star students, then you would happily lap it up considering the cast involved. This is further enhanced by using social media, be it for better or worse (and on occasion a nasty worst). Initiation set’s itself up so well that you genuinely forget that you are meant to be watching a horror film. Especially so if you had watched any trailers etc., they divert so well into this finely written tense drama of finding out if a character has been sexually assaulted and by who that you wouldn’t mind seeing how that would have turned out on its own.
As the layers are peeled away, we get the full gist of what has been going on, and as characters begin to either show their cards or keep them further to themselves, we want to know the truth just as much as Ellery does. The fact that the film goes down a more horror route afterwards is just a bonus for a genre fan (like myself), but a thought of what if remains there, and that has to be a testament to the work our three writers, John Berardo, Lindsay LaVanchy and Brian Frager have done here.
With all of that said, however, Initiation is still a great, effective slasher. Even though the deaths mount up quick after that due to how much time is given to the set-up and the characters’ trauma dealing with that first death. Yet, once we get to that brilliant final act, we are at the edge of our seat as our trio try to navigate this locked building away from the killer. With a slight Scream vibe throughout (very slight), the film begins to mesh in creative enough deaths in this sexual abuse drama. With tension rife throughout the film, Berardo never lets the audience settle, even when there are pauses between the first death and the final act. The film allows us moments of trying to figure out who exactly the killer is and almost presents us with an American version of a Giallo, especially as the film begins to show its hand.
The film shines with some notable deaths, and when it wants to get nasty, it does so with some wonderfully gruesome deaths that are well thought out and not just the standard death scenes you would first expect. Some deaths don’t fully connect plot-wise as soon as some characters die; nothing is mentioned about them until the end. In truth, that is probably the main gripe with the film, as everything else here in Initiation works very well.
Initiation could have very easily have gone down the standard slasher direction as we are given a film set on a campus with two houses with tonnes of college students present, with authorities about to try and capture the killer and some final girls. The temptation is there, and thank goodness it doesn’t. This film knows it is smarter and more complex than that, and it does a marvellous job of making itself its movie.
Small things are appreciated in Initiation, one being the fact when characters are running away from someone, they are running. None of this daft movie trundling, full-on sprinting down corridors. Characters make the decisions you would expect them to; they hide until they have to move, and it all makes wonderful sense, and our writing team should be commended for writing these characters so well in that regards.
Speaking of which, Lindsay LaVanchy is fantastic here as our lead, Ellery. With every moment of anguish and shock that occurs, we feel it on her face. She is given some great moments to shine, be it when she finds out about the first death and she repeatedly tries to call that person, denying that it has happened, to her forcing herself to carry out her investigation about the assault. But, her best moment could very well be the very final scene where we see the actual shock of what has gone on here. This again harks back to how realistic the film has positioned itself. Chaos is going on around Ellery, and all she can do is be directed on where to go as she is left dumbfounded and in a state of pure shock.
Initiation finishes with more questions than answers, and you know what is perfectly fine; this works for this film. It would be pretty odd if it were all tidied up into a bit of bow; this is a film that earns that messy finale.
Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May.
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