21st May2021

‘Initiation’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez, James Berardo, Gattlin Griffith, Adin Kolansky, Shireen Lai, Patrick R. Walker, Maxwell Hamilton, Bart Johnson, Jon Huertas, Kent Faulcon, Yancy Butler, Lochlyn Munro | Written by John Berardo, Lindsay LaVanchy, Brian Frager | Directed by John Berardo

During a university’s pledge week, the carefree partying turns deadly serious when a star athlete is found impaled in his dorm. The murder ignites a spree of sinister social-media messages, sweeping the students and police into a race against time to uncover the truth behind the school’s dark secrets and the horrifying meaning of a recurring symbol: a single exclamation mark…

From that generic slasher movie-like DVD cover audiences will probably be expecting your typical paint-by-numbers slasher movie. You know the type: masked killer hunts teens and offs them in grisly ways. In this case the teens are college students and yes, the killer does follow the typical stalk and slash pattern. Only here our killer is not actually a psychopath, instead the shiny-masked madman is more avenging angel – taking on the college fraternities and their traditions of hazing, wild drug and booze-filled parties and general misogyny. Yes, our killer hunts GUYS not girls!

Though to be fair to Initiation there’s also an element of Scream and the idea of self-referential horror that Wes Craven’s film became synonymous with, spawning a myriad of similar films. Here we have a cast of female college students all terrified of the killer stalking the campus – after all slasher-movie villains always target women right? Which leads to a very interesting confrontation in the films final third as the film heroine takes on the killer unaware she’s actually not in any danger! It’s a brilliant play on the cliches of the genre and something makes Initiation feels more refreshing than your typical 80s-slasher wannabe.

Speaking of which, kudos to the filmmakers behind Initiation for digging deep into the 80s slasher oeuvre and having their killer use a drill – one of the most notorious weapons of the genre that not only spawned huge controversy here in the UK, thanks to the lurid cover for Driller Killer, but also spawned one of the best examples of the slasher movie in Slumber Party Massacre (and to a lesser extent its sequel which combined a drill with a guitar!) Much like paying with the cliches of the genre, using a drill – in an era where killers are typically all about knives (the effects are easier) and other kitchen implements – brings something different to Initiation, making it stand apart from the swathe of modern slasher movies.

What also makes this film stand apart are the characters (and cast). Lindsay LaVanchy, who co-wrote the film, stars as the films main protagonist Eloise – an incredibly strong-willed, non-nonsense lead whose quest to uncover what happened to her friend Kylie (Isabelle Gomez) at a fraternity party, one at which her brother attended and may have been involved, runs parallel to the murders in the film. Eloise is the kind of strong female lead that used to be a mainstay of the slasher genre, the “final girl” type, only here she’s not just trying to stay one step ahead of the killer and survive – she’s also fighting back herself. Using college equipment to investigate a possible sex crime that is inextricably linked to the actions of the films serial killer psycho! Then you have familiar faces in supporting roles – Lochyn Munro as the school principal, Jon Huertas as one of the cops called to the campus and, surprisingly, given her almost disappearance from mainstream movies, Yancy Butler as the Detective heading up the campus killings investigation. The appearance of such familiar faces amongst the cast of relative newbies gives Initiation an added sense of kudos.

With a great sub-plot dealing with the idea of young woman fighting the patriarchy of college life – not only the fraternities but also the principal who’ll seemingly do anything to protect his frat-boy athletically and academically gifted students from disrepute and slander (even if what they do is abominable) – and plenty of slasher movie tropes: a masked killer committing gory slayings and red-herrings galore, all of which keep things interesting; Initiation is a fantastic addition to the genre.

Like Scream did in the 90s, Initiation proves you can take the cliched trappings of the past and update them to tell a more modern tale, satisfying fans both old and new.

***** 5/5

Initiation is released on DVD in the UK on May 24th, courtesy of Signature Entertainment

Trackbacks & Pings