I don’t know what my expectations were for John Berardo’s Initiation, but one thing I do know is that I did not expect the film to be a slasher film reminiscent of Scream 2. This is a college murder mystery. A film where a seemingly idyllic and normal college experience is turned upside down by a series of murders on the campus which leads to an unraveling of dark secrets at the university. It is a fun, creepy time.
Initiation takes us to Whiton University and introduces us to a slew of students who go there, including Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy), a biology major and senior member of a sorority, her brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) is a world class swimmer who was accused of sexual assault in the past, Beau (Gattlin Griffith), Wes’ testosterone-fueled fraternity brother, and Kylie (Isabella Gomez) is a freshman rushing to be in Ellery’s sorority, among many others. During a homecoming party, Kylie parties too hard and ends up unconscious in a locked room with Wes and Beau. What happened in there? Nobody knows and nobody will say.
The following morning, Kylie is being cruelly mocked on social media for what happened at the party and talks to Ellery about it. Ellery agrees to help investigate what happened, particularly since her brother was involved. As she is investigating, students begin to be murdered on campus, all of whom were at that homecoming party. The matter is being investigated by the police, who find out far more than they intended not only about the victims of the case, but of Whiton University.
The slasher genre is a genre that seems to slowly be slipping away, but Initiation is here to revive it. Loaded with classic modern tropes like cell phones dying and losing signals, along with stupid characters who don’t run where they need to, sketchy characters who have all the makings of being the killer only to be killed when we least expect it, and a killer with a sweet mask who just knows where to be at all times, Berardo doesn’t do anything new to reinvent the genre, but knows how to make one that reminds of the great slashers of the past. The film also features a third act that is all set in one area of the campus that is as intense as anything I have seen this year. It is loaded with nail-biting tension and violence that all culminates into a twist ending I did not see coming. The film features a banging score that helps elevate the terror and tension and uses lighting and cinematography very well to portray the fear of the students and the dread of their impending doom.
Berardo layers in social messages about accountability, rape culture, and the harm of social media. Though we have seen movies tackle these topics before and none of them in this movie are fully hammered home, the messages add more depth to the movie and makes sure it is more than just a movie about a killer murdering college students. Initiation also does a great job of building the story to give us an intriguing mystery. It takes a while to get going and for the killer to first show up, but that only adds layers to the characters and to the story.
Initiation is one of the great surprises of 2021. It is a fresh, fun, creepy slasher film that I hope helps revitalize one of my favorite horror genres.
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