May 6, 2021 Initiation (Movie Review)
The #WhitonMassacre is going to leave one college campus screwed in Initiation, which arrives in select theaters, as well as to Digital and On Demand, on Friday, May 7, 2021 thanks to Saban Films.
Directed by John Berardo (iLA short 2014, The Labyrinth 2017), who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Brian Frager (Off Campus short 2010, Grand series) and Lindsay LaVanchy (Scream: The TV Series, NCIS: Los Angeles series), Initiation takes place on the campus of the fictional Whiton University. Here we first peek behind the doors of the Sigma Nu Pi fraternity, where its classy gentlemen go by a simple motto: “tag the hoes to protect the bros,” so no one ends up with sloppy seconds. But this covert social media game is destined to raise some flags.
And, before long, it does. In the sobering light of day after a big homecoming party, Ellery (Actress-Writer LaVanchy) has questions that her sorority sister Kylie (Isabella Gomez: Matador series, One Day at a Time series) can’t answer. But what happened seems fairly apparent, and it involves frat superstar Beau (Gattlin Griffith: Green Lantern 2011, Labor Day 2013) and Ellery’s brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez: Teen Wolf series, Cruel Summer series), an Olympic hopeful.
With the frat beginning to close ranks and her brother shutting her out, Ellery turns to her safe haven: the campus biology lab. Under the disconcerting watch of lab technician Tyler (Maxwell Hamilton: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. 2017, Michael Blunt short 2018), she begins her own investigation. Supported by her best friend Shayleen (Shireen Lai), as well as Shayleen’s boyfriend Malik (Patrick R. Walker: Power series, The Resident series), her scientific inquiry has only just begun when the first body is discovered on campus.
As the push for answers begins to bring tense moments to Whiton, Detective Fitzgerald (Yancy Butler: Hard Target 1993, Kick-Ass 2 2013) will have to build a solid relationship with the school’s Chancellor of Student Affairs (Lochlyn Munro: Scary Movie 2000, Riverdale series) and the campus’ Officer Martinez (Jon Huertas: Castle series, This Is Us series) if there is to be any hope of nailing the killer before another student dies.
Obviously Initiation is a story that centers itself around allegations of sexual assault. While the film does not go into graphic depictions or delve into any gruesome details, it is not intended for anyone who will be triggered by this subject matter. Please be warned.
That said, Berardo’s Initiation might not be the most original film within the Horror-Thriller genre, but it works within its bounds to offer viewers something that is intriguing and fully enjoyable throughout its succinct runtime. Solid acting, crisp cinematography and an engaging score work to craft a film that feels aimed at viewers in their late teens to early 20s, what with its visualizations of personal texts/chats and Instagram feeds. So although it’s much more modern than its forebears, the film’s visual and aural vibes lend it to comparisons with blockbuster Teen slashers such as 1996’s Scream, 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, and 1998’s Urban Legend.
However, this story differs greatly in its subject matter. Closer in both style and substance to 2019’s Do Not Reply, Initiation is a slashing good time borne of serious material. And unlike so many of today’s movies that involve mystery and suspense, this is not a story that can be solved within its first ten minutes. So while you might think you have an inkling as to the killer’s identity, you are wrong.
Much of this ability to avoid an obvious resolution coms thanks to the cast, which is extensive, and even features Director Berardo in a cameo as frat boy Dylan. He being the most obvious stand-out of the fraternity brothers, who all seem to look interchangeable, as frat bros often do. So while Gutierrez and Griffith are fine in their roles, the real focus is on the ladies, particularly LaVanchy’s Ellery. As the sorority girl who defies most stereotypes, LaVanchy delivers an excellent performance as a scientifically-minded young woman. Though she initially appears a bit standoffish, we quickly see that she is willing to go out on a limb for the people she loves. A sister who is ultimately trapped between loyalty to her brother and finding the truth, the talented actress and writer anchors the entire story with her dedication to her intriguing role.
In fact, the film is careful with its approach to such important issues as sexual assault on campus, cyberbullying, and situations that boil down to “he said, she said.” There are no answers here, but Initiation is apt to open the dialogue among today’s teens. Beyond being topical fodder for a slasher, these are matters that need to be addressed, particularly before young men and women head off to college campuses. In this, the film is steeped in harsh reality, and even offers up a villain who some may view as an anti-hero—which is a complicated debate for another time.
All too often “legacy” (read: White) male students get away with their crimes (“boys will be boys”), and though Initiation can’t fix a broken system it refuses to ignore these important issues. Despite providing two very different approaches to ending crime on campus, it is still not the most original film that you will see in 2021. But for what it is, it’s done well, looks sleek, and delivers an important point, all while remaining engaging throughout its 97-minutes. Introducing its dark angel of vengeance that we’ll uncreatively deem The Initiator, the film leaves itself open for a sequel and we are definitely not adverse to returning to Whiton University once more. In the words of the great Drowning Pool, “Let the bodies hit the floor.” Sorry we’re not sorry for you Sigma Nu Pi, Cryptic Rock gives Initiation 4 of 5 stars.