Another movie that missed its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in 2020, Initiation, or Init!iation, finally made its way to VOD platforms this past week. Part slasher movie, part social media horror, director John Berardo promises a horror movie that avoids some of the subgenre’s familiar tropes. Based on the promotional materials, Initiation still packs attractive, partying young people and a masked killer. But this slasher looks to recalibrate its historically misogynistic roots to our #MeToo era. That’s a tall order for a slasher and, while there’s no critical consensus, reviews seem split.
It’s pledge week at a small US college and the campus fraternities and sororities are partying it up. Things quickly sour, however, when a sorority member wakes up in a bedroom with a three Sigma Nu Pi fraternity members and no memory of what happened. At the center of everything is star swimmer Wes Scott, who faced a similar allegation just a year earlier. But when his fraternity brothers find Wes murdered, a panic sweeps across the campus.
Initiation Delivers On Its Promise To Subvert the Subgenre
For the most part, Initiation is a slasher movie that updates the formula on a superficial level by drawing in social media. Certainly, this isn’t the first movie to use social media posts in background screenshots (see Shook). However, Initiation better uses the effect to advance its story. In addition, writer and director John Berardo does a much better job of weaving the social media components into a movie that spends arguably more time dissecting misogynistic violence than it does showing off fancy kills. Slasher fans may be put off by a pace that’s admittedly slow for the movie’s first half. Don’t expect a standard ‘stalk and slash’ approach to the material.
…Berardo’s final act ratchets up the tension in what amounts to a much better than expected finale.
Yet if it’s less focused on familiar tropes for much of its runtime, Initiation still delivers the expected goods. Even if it’s body count is low, Initiation has some decent kills. Moreover, Berardo’s final act ratchets up the tension in what amounts to a much better than expected finale. None of this masks the pacing problem. Despite its sure-handed approach to the more serious subject matter, as a pure horror experience, Initiation takes a lot of time to get to the point. Berardo has a steady hand on most of his movie, but he fails to inject atmosphere and scares into the scenes between the deaths. As for its final reveal, audiences are likely to be split.
Initiation Sidesteps Familiar Tropes For More Character Focus
Where Initiation will likely prove most divisive is its #MeToo era reversal of slasher tropes. For most of the movie, Berardo forgoes the ‘and then there was none’ approach to the subgenre. While there’s some male nudity, Initiation also forgoes sexualizing its violence. Instead, significant chunks of the movie are devoted to exploring misogynistic violence, cyberbullying, and how its female characters cope. After sort of pulling a bit of a Psycho and killing Froy Guiterrez’s ‘Wes Scott’, Initiation shifts focus to its female characters. And if some viewers feel this slows the movie down, it’s also what sets it apart from lesser efforts.
…LaVanchy who shares co-writing credits, impresses with a realistic depiction of trauma.
Most of the movie’s second half follows Lindsay LaVanchy’s ‘Ellery’, Wes Scott’s sister. LaVanchy, who shares co-writing credits, impresses with a realistic depiction of trauma. Ultimately, LaVanchy is the glue that holds the movie together in its slower moments. In the movie’s latter half, Isabella Gomez’s (One Day at a Time) ‘Kylie’ shines with another grounded performance. Both LaVanchy and Gomez deliver characters that will resonate particularly with young female audiences. Te supporting cast is filled competently filled out by familiar faces including Yancy Butler (Witchblade, Hard Target), Lochlyn Munro (Riverdale), and Jon Huertas (This Is Us).
Initiation A Good, If Not Divisive, Spin on the Slasher Narrative
Yes, some viewers will lose patience with Initiation’s slower approach to the material. For chunks of the movie, Initiation often feels more like a television crime procedural than a slasher movie. Still there’s confidence and maturity to this movie that’s impressive. When it’s character-driven, there’s also certain realness to the interactions and reactions. For slasher fans, Berardo may not overindulge in death scenes, but he clearly knows what he’s doing. And the final act is genuinely suspenseful and unpredictable. On top of these positives, Initiation actually makes good use of social media and mostly succeeds at adapting slasher movie tropes to our contemporary #MeToo era.