NOW ON VOD! Before sitting down to watch Initiation, directed by John Berardo, who co-write it with Lindsay LaVanchy and Brian Frager, I only knew the title and that Saban Films is distributing it. Yes, I was unaware of the film’s genre or the cast and crew behind it. Quite frankly, knowing as little as possible about the movie is probably the best way to view it. So, I encourage everyone reading this to pause, watch the film, then come back and finish the review. For those who must now, yes, I absolutely recommend Initiation. To get further into why prepare for minor spoilers that will reveal certain twists that took me by surprise.
Whiton University star-athlete Wes Scott (Froy Gutierrez) is on a downward spiral, as he feels disconnected from his friends, swimming on the team no longer inspires him the way it used to, and he’s coasting by in his classes. The one thing he looks forward to almost every night is partying and drinking until he blacks out. During one particular party, Wes takes advantage of new pledge Kylie (Isabella Gomez). His sister, Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy), confronts him about it, but he claims not to remember what actually happened, echoing assertions he made from an incident from a year ago.
As for Kylie, she can’t concentrate on class and is feeling out of sorts. Ellery and Kylie are unsure how to proceed, so Ellery heads to her internship (?) that night… SPOILERS LIE AHEAD
“…Wes takes advantage of new pledge Kylie.”
…when she receives the news that Wes has been brutally murdered. Ellery is beside herself with grief, refusing to believe the police at first. University Chancellor Bruce Van Horn (Lochlyn Munro) seems sympathetic to Ellery’s plight but is really just trying to protect the school’s reputation. As she’s processing the death of her brother, more people wind up being killed. Who is doing the killing and why? Is it Kylie seeking revenge? Is it someone else with altogether different motivations?
For the first 30-minutes, Initiation is a gripping examination of sexual assault on college campuses. The characters are very well written and realistic, with each person having several facets to them. The truly impressive cast only rounds this element out further, allowing for everyone watching to sympathize and empathize with everyone on screen. Yes, that includes the scuzzy Wes.
Berardo masterfully then injects the slasher angle without missing a beat. Wes is at the frat house alone when he a figure in a mask startles him. He believes it’s his friend, but then the person begins stabbing him repeatedly. It is shocking and horrifying and somehow works alongside the drama so carefully set up beforehand. See, the genre jump could have overpowered the compelling character study, but it only serves to enhance it, as Wes’ death complicates an already tension-filled situation.
Then the killer’s motivations come to light, and it works better than it has any right to. While it’s not hard to guess all that Initiation has in store, the writers ably ensure that each component complements the rest in a truly invigorating fashion. The actors are all-natural and imbue their characters with much gravitas. The overall production is stylish and engaging, with equal parts drama and horror. There is no reason not to seek the film out.
"…stylish...equal parts drama and horror."