Initiation (2021) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Initiation (2021) Review

Horrorific content by christina on June 28th, 2021 | Movie Review | Slasher, Killer, College, Maniac

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Whiton University unravels the night a star-athlete is murdered, kicking off a spree of social media slayings that force students to uncover the truth behind the school's hidden secrets and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point.

Initiation was directed by John Berardo and stars Lochlyn Munro (from Poker Night), Jon Huertas (from The Objective), Yancy Butler (from Lake Placid 3), Isabella Gomez, Gattlin Griffith, Froy Gutierrez, Nick Ballard and Bart Johnson.


Initiation Review

If you’re a fan of slasher movies, then you already know that their simplicity is a huge part of their appeal. They don’t typically dig too deeply into meaty topics or try to be anything they’re not. They fill their runtimes with precisely what the audience came for and expected -- buckets of blood and plenty of carnage.

In other words, horror lovers don’t sit down to watch a new slasher film expecting anything incredibly profound or thought-provoking. But every once in a while, a movie comes along that delivers a lot more than was initially promised. Brought to you by director John Berardo, Initiation just might be the latter. Does it live up to the hype, though, or would Berardo have been better off following the established rules when it comes to making a slasher flick?

Initiation is the story of Ellery Scott (Lindsay LaVanchy), an intelligent university student living the campus life. She spends her days in the on-site lab working with various samples and dodges unwanted advances from classmate Tyler (Maxwell Hamilton) – all pretty typical stuff for a college student. Her brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) goes to the same university and shows promise, as well, both as a student and as an athlete, thanks to his killer swimming skills.

All it takes to throw a wrench into everyone’s lives is one wild frat party that gets way out of hand. Wes turns up murdered a few days later, presumably due to the events of the frat party. An investigation ensues, treating the audience to a reasonably exciting “whodunnit-style” ride with plenty of guessing games, twists, and big reveals to enjoy along the way. However, as authorities continue to look into the details of the case, it soon becomes clear that there’s nothing straightforward about what’s happened.

On the surface, Initiation certainly sounds like typical slasher fare. There’s plenty of slicing and dicing going on, as well an excellent mystery to chew on at the heart of it all. But, at the same time, this film dares to take on various relevant social issues in thought-provoking ways that somehow never scan as overdone. For instance, the pivotal incident at the frat party stems from a slut-shaming game favored by some of the campus frat brothers. Topics like emotional trauma and how the system fails to protect those relying on it are also addressed.

It’s not just the writing and the storytelling that are spot on with this film, either. The cast of Initiation is incredibly talented. As a director and storyteller, John Berardo favors showing the audience what he’s getting at instead of simply telling. His cast is more than up to the task of doing this approach justice. Many of the performances are pretty raw and even heart-wrenching, grabbing the viewer by the throat and refusing to let go.

Injecting a combination slasher film and crime story with so much social commentary could have easily gone wrong or felt heavy-handed. However, it works here because Berardo never explicitly shines the spotlight on the issues he explores. None of the take-home lessons are ever stated in plain English, and you’re never even expressly forced to consider most of them. However, they are there, adding nuance and depth to a story that might otherwise have been fairly forgettable.

Worth Watching?

Overall, Initiation doesn’t give the viewer much to complain about. The storytelling is engaging, the payoff is satisfying once you do eventually find out what’s been going on, and you’re left feeling like you got a lot more movie than you signed up for (in a good way).

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