Although familiar, Initiation puts a fresh spin on a retro classic with the perfect amount of camp and cheese with your power tools. Beware the metal mask.
Initiation pays homage to all those fun horror movies of the ’90s and the early oughts with a new school twist. I loved that era of films. I have a soft spot for the crazy-eyed hackers that kill with glee and cleverness. The ones that make you laugh while cringing. There’s a place in the lauded canon of horror for movies that entertain with unbridled abandon. Initiation understands the kind of movie it is and dives headfirst into that deep end. Those sorts of movies are as much fun as they are disgusting. Initiation has all the same elements of I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Valentine only updated for an all-new audience.
After a night of partying leaves one young woman questioning what happened to her, a series of shocking murders rock a college campus. Whiton University has a reputation to protect, and a rash of grisly deaths is just one of the school’s many problems. Ellery is a smart, popular sorority girl who is hiding a dark secret. Her brother, a star athlete, is wrapped up in the mess that is bro-culture and monetary coverups. Their shared secret might get them both killed. As the body count piles up, she must outwit and outrun a killer with a love of screwing and not the fun kind.
College campuses can be a great place. They can provide education, social interaction, and romance even. They can provide a safe environment to mature into a full-fledged adult. If you survive, that is. Unfortunately, they can also be breeding grounds for the entitled to get away with anything. When a social media game goes too far, all that’s left is a whole lot of blood and an exclamation point.
As with most of the movies of this ilk, blood and stalking are the prime ingredients. Writers John Berardo, Brian Frage, and Lindsay Lavanchy, who also stars as Ellery, clearly love these kinds of films and their devotion shows. John Berardo, who also directs, manages to take the universal theme of fear, mix a dash of familiar horror tropes, including a stylish and reflective mask, and layers it with the modern dangers of silence, willful ignorance, and denial. There’s a cheekiness to the mask, which not only calls back to other masked slashers but is also a comment on looking at yourself for the monsters that lurk in this world. They are often right in front of you. Sometimes they are staring back at you from the mirror.
Performances by Lochlyn Munroe(Bruce Van Horn), who gets to display the particular cool smarminess that he did so well in Shudder’s recent Spiral, and LaVanchy, who walks a thin line between complacency and sympathy, are good. Kent Faulcon(Chief Adam Tahan) is a standout in his brief screentime as an incredibly pompous, overly important cog in the nasty wheel that is school protection.
Pacing is good with minimal downtime, and the film flies towards the end. Practical effects are done well enough to make you squirm, and some inventive kills are entertaining. The beginning is a little clunky, but the cast quickly settles into their roles, and the story takes hold. My one complaint with Initiation is the ending, which is intended as a colossal gotcha and is more a huh? The final act is strong clear until the end, when the rushed conclusion leaves you wanting a little more explanation or justification. Who did what and when are huge questions left sitting out there. You are never entirely sure if the killing spree was justified or not. That’s a problem if the central conceit is the arrogance of powerful boys and the men who protect them and the crippling fear of the truth.
I first caught Initiation as part of Screamfest 2020’s lineup. It was perfectly placed as the headline alongside five horror shorts. You can catch it in theaters everywhere and on VOD on May 7th, 2021.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.