Initiation is a 2020 horror film set within an American fraternity and sorority, that appeared in the trailer to be a generic trashy millennial horror that we’ve seen countless times before. However, the end result is a surprisingly serious yet gory horror with a very powerful storyline that sadly isn’t quite fully realised.
Set on a university campus during pledge week, Initiation follows undergraduate scientist Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) and her Olympic hopeful swimmer brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) as they attend a party at Wes’s fraternity, where Ellery’s friend Kylie (Isabella Gomez) gets drunk, possibly drugged and locked in a room with Wes and his sleazy frat brother Beau (Gattlin Griffin) while another friend Dylan (James Berardo) looks on. The next day Kylie can’t remember anything but after having flashbacks, confides in her friends that something may have happened to her.
Wes doesn’t appear to remember what happened either, and through Ellery, we discover that this isn’t the first time Wes has been involved in such an incident. The fraternity doesn’t have the best reputation either, as leader Beau sleeps with sorority members and then shames them on social media with an exclamation point which lets his friends know that they’re easy, trash or both. Before we’re able to find out the truth about the incident, Wes is brutally murdered by a masked assailant who then begins to pick off other members of the fraternity amid a police investigation by Detective Fitzgerald (Yancy Butler) and Officer Martinez (Jon Huertas).
I had been expecting a trashy horror film, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a trashy horror, but Initiation is far from what I expected. The main story focuses on sexual abuse and consent, and it’s very well done, to the point where it feels more like a serious drama rather than a horror film. The use of text messages and social media posts within scenes also works well with the overall theme of the film and it never feels forced or over the top. The problem is that Initiation spends far too long on the serious drama and the horror doesn’t arrive soon enough. And while the horror is very much welcome and impressively bloody and gory, it isn’t nearly enough and the scenes in between the murders are very slow and drawn out. There is a fairly explosive, action-packed finale full of tension and suspense, and a very surprising and satisfying killer reveal, but sadly we’re left waiting for it until the final 15 minutes of the film.
Director John Berardo who co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Frager and star Lindsay LaVanchy, has created a surprisingly well-crafted film. It looks good, has an incredibly suspenseful soundtrack, and aside from a couple of oddly acted and scripted moments – the scene where the campus Police Chief informs Ellery of her brother’s death is incredibly cringeworthy – the cast and writing perform admirably too. Initiation’s key weakness is its slow execution of the plot and an inability to realise the story’s potential. Despite hinting at cyberbullying, it never quite manages to tie this in with the wider abuse and horror storyline.
Initiation is a slasher film very reminiscent of Scream, and what it lacks in pop culture and comedy it makes up for in serious social commentary. If there had been a little more horror mixed in with the drama, this could have been an impressive modern-day slasher.
Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!