New in select theaters and On Demand from Saban Films!

INIT!ATION (2020)

Directed by John Berardo.
Written by John Berardo, Brian Frager, Lindsay LaVanchy.
Starring Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Lochlyn Munro, Yancy Butler, Jon Huertas, Gattlin Griffith, Isabella Gomez, Bart Johnson, Patrick R. Walker, Nick Ballard, Amber Pauline Magdesyan, Kent Faulcon, Mel Fair, Shalini Bathina, Jeff Willy, David M Sandoval Jr., Debra De Liso, Maxwell Hamilton, Betsy Hume, Adin Kolansky, James Berardo, Corey Crandall, Shireen Lai, Brian Frager
Find out more about this film here!

After a young pledge to a sorority gets drunk and may have been sexually assaulted at a frat party, a masked killer begins killing anyone associated with the assault. Co-writer Lindsay LaVanchy plays Ellery, sister to one of the frat boys accused of the assault and big sister to the pledge who was assaulted. She finds herself in the middle of the masked murderers rampage and trapped in a school building with him with no chance of escape.

Oh INIT!ATION. I think it really wants to be the next incarnation of SCREAM. It certainly tries extremely hard to be that. The problem is that the film is so caught up in multiple issues like date rape, binge drinking, colleges protecting well to do students from prosecution, and other social issues that it forgets to remember to be entertaining. No, not all films need to thrill at every minute, but this is advertised as a slasher film and there’s really not a hint of slash until the forty-minute mark and only a three-person body count to boot! Instead, there’s a tedious amount of time developing the relationship between Ellery and her brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez), the various relationships between the cast of sorority and frat types, the college trying to cover up the assault, and the initial scene where the pledge may or may not have been assaulted. Even with that amount of time spent on establishing the scene, setting, characters, and situation, the actual assault is kept totally fuzzy all through the movie as no one remembers exactly what happened because everyone was shit-faced drunk. I’m not trying to diminish the issue of sexual assault in any way, but nights where no one remembers what happened was just called Thursday back when I went to college. But that was a different time, I guess. In INIT!ATION, while it’s implied that the pledge was taken advantage of, there’s never any real confirmation that it actually happened. Even the pledge herself doesn’t know for sure. This makes for a meandering, and ultimately vague first half hour of a rather short film.

When the slashing begins, it’s potent. I like the way the killer runs through the hallways of the school and frat houses and savagely attacks his victims in a very Ghostface fashion. I really dig the fact that the killer uses a power drill to drive long metal screws into the body of those who may have been a part of the assault—a metaphor I noticed and appreciated since these attacks are a result of someone being possibly screwed against their will. These scenes are extremely effective and once the stalking and killing begins, this film kicks into gear in a powerful way. It just takes its sweet ass time to become an actual slasher. You have to sift through a lot of frat and sorority shenanigans before you get to the good stuff.

The other problem is that this story focuses on the wrong protagonist. Sure, Lindsay LaVanchy is a decent actress and her character has ties to the assault because her brother was involved, but it’s a degree of separation away from the actual person who was assaulted that muddies the waters. The film should have focused on the pledge who was assaulted, but she is barely a part of the main story and only serves as sort of a sidekick to LaVanchy. The emotional turmoil LeVanchy’s Ellery experiences is ok, but if the story is about a frat assault and the victim of that assault should have taken center stage, not the co-writer of the film. Because she doesn’t, the revelation of who the killer is and the arduous trauma Ellery and the pledge endure feel disconnected and not as impactful as it could have been had the assault survivor been the main focus.

Somewhere, sometime, I’ll write something about the evolution of cell phones in horror films. In a lot of them, setting the films in the woods or some remote area takes care of the cell phone problem and then relies on the human drama to unfold. Others set the story in a time before cell phones existed. In INIT!ATION, cell phones exist. They exist hard. The new trend is using cell phones and the social media in them as a member of the cast itself and it is as annoying and intrusive as it is getting repeated phone calls in the middle of a movie. Every character is on their phone, texting, posting, liking, taking pics, friending, sexting, using at as a flashlight, and whatever else you do on the phone these days. It’s shown physically on screen in front of each character and makes for a sort of window into their inner thoughts. While it does function as an accurate portrayal of our cell phone addicted culture, it doesn’t make for compelling cinema. Sure, it allows us to see the inner monologue between characters, but it serves at its least intrusive to be an annoyance since most of the posts don’t add to the story or at its worst as a means to dump exposition. But exposition is still exposition whether a character is vomiting it up verbally or texting it out to someone. All of it can be better represented played out in the scene. Maybe it’s just me showing my age, but I’m as guilty of texting and communicating on various online avenues as anyone else, so I don’t think so. It just doesn’t work in film, especially when it is given such a large role as it is with INIT!ATION.

INIT!ATION has some strong moments of SCREAM-like slasher action, but the action takes way too long to get going and the story is unfocussed on what really should have mattered and who it mattered to.

Check out the trailer here!!