Review by Sean Boelman
Since its origins, the slasher film has been one of the more socially-minded subgenres of horror, and John Berardo hopes to revitalize it with his movie Initiation. And while the film has a message that is definitely timely and interesting, it’s too full of itself to be particularly effective, much less entertaining.
The movie follows the students and faculty of a university that is torn apart after a vicious string of killings seemingly connected to a social media trend. It’s a compelling back-to-basics premise on paper, but in execution, Berardo and co-writers Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy have lost track of what made this type of film special in the first place.
There are some really interesting things to be said in the movie about the issue of sexual assault on university campuses and how it connects to social media, but these themes are presented in a way that is didactic at best and shallow at worst. And the ending tries to bring these ideas full-circle but feels tremendously cheesy instead.
The character development in the film is also disappointingly scant. Obviously, a majority of the male characters are meant to be dislikable representations of the frat boy culture that has perpetuated the toxic events and actions which the movie is dissecting, however, it is certainly problematic that the female characters are almost as underdeveloped.
None of the stars of the film turn in a performance that is particularly notable, but none of them are bad compared to the typical quality of actors who appear in B-movies like this. It’s a teen ensemble piece, and while there is a scream queen character, LaVanchy’s performance ultimately isn’t the movie’s highlight.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the film, though, is the fact that it is a failure as a horror movie. The body count in early slashers was never particularly high, but those filmmakers had other ways of building tension. However, in trying to get his message across early, Berardo abandons suspense, causing the audience to check out before the first kill comes after the thirty minute mark.
The kill scenes in the film are somewhat impressive in some regards and underwhelming in others. Berardo shows the gnarly aftermath of these murders in a way that will satisfy genre fans’ craving for carnage, but the actual action is minimal, seemingly in an attempt to keep the budget low. Stylistically, the movie tries to be a blend of retro and modern, and it doesn’t consistently work.
Initiation aims to revitalize the slasher genre with new and modern themes, but due to poor direction, it’s just boring. Despite an interesting concept, this flick is unlikely to satisfy even the most easily entertained of thrill seekers.
Initiation hits theaters and VOD on May 7.