• Nate Adams

Review: Social media is a killer in slasher throwback 'Initiation'


Courtesy of Saban Films

An old-school slasher in the vein of “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “Urban Legend” - but with a modern 21st century twist: John Berardo’s “Initiation” (or stylized as Init!ation”) puts forth a group of unsuspecting teenagers who find themselves in the grasp of a serial killer axing their classmates and friends on a college campus. It presents a conventional though fun guessing game as to what the motive behind the slayings is and the results might actually surprise you. The murders don’t ring as particularly memorable, but there’s a handful of crafty and tense-fueled sequences that should provoke a reaction or two.


“Initiation” is unique in how it tries to spin a social commentary with a meta slasher context. Dialogues on sexual assault and roofies are prevelent as are the complacent academic advisors who allow that behavior to go unchecked. It’s no surprise when the film begins with a fraternity sanctioned Homecoming party and a poor 17-year-old teeanger wakes up the next day unsure of what happened to her the night before, because it’s all too familiar. The incident puts Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) in a tough spot considering her brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) was last seen with the victim and as the head of the nearby sorority, she needs answers. A hashtag with an exclamation point is making the rounds on social media, a calling card among the frat bros to let them know which girls are sluts, eventually opening a can of worms when a masked killer starts targeting those involved in the assault.


Writers Brian Frage along with Berardo and Lavanchy are clearly channeling their love for the genre through “Initiation” with callbacks to all of the above plus “Sorority Row.” The wide landscape of an isolated college campus has been the foundation for cheap horror flicks for decades, and the spin thrown in is refreshing enough to elevate the cliches, of which there are many. The benefit of LaVanchy’s relatively game performance heightens where others falter, and her final girl confidence oozes through each frame. Audiences will undoubtedly yell at all the moments when someone ducks into the basement when they should book it for the exit. But what are these movies without dimwitted characters making clueless decisions?


After a rough first 20 minutes - and the slayings begin - “Initiation” finds some groove if only because we’re eager to see how these sexual predators get the knife. An uneven conclusion leaves plenty of unanswered questions and the suspension of disbelief will be required beyond a reasonable doubt, but “Initiation” understands the type of cheesy movie it wants to be and as pure slumber party fodder, the film is a bridge between forgettable and cult classic.


Grade: B-


Saban Films will be releasing INITIATION in theaters, on demand and on digital Friday, May 7, 2021.