A polished and serviceable slasher that despite an initially interesting concept, can’t quite provide a satisfying conclusion.
Synopsis: Whiton University unravels the night a star-athlete is murdered, kicking off a spree of social media slayings that force students to uncover the truth behind the school’s hidden secrets and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point.
Initiation (or Init!ation for those fans of quirky spelling in titles) manages to provide sleek visuals and a debt to slashers that comes not in the form of direct references to specific films, but in nods to the kind of slasher beats that work best for audiences. This makes it engaging enough for the most part, although the seriousness of some subject matter feels misplaced at times.
Initiation sets out its characters early on, showing the women of a sorority house setting up a buddy system for an upcoming party so everyone gets home safe. In the same moment, we’re introduced to a typically detestable group of fraternity boys who are discussing their special codes and the importance of falling in line with the group. The groups are linked beyond their shared college experience by siblings Wes (Froy Gutierrez) and Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) – members of the fraternity and sorority respectively. Despite their closeness, an incident at the party where Kylie (Isabella Gomez) passes out in a locked room with Wes and Beau (Gattlin Griffith) has Ellery begin to question the behaviour of her brother and his friends. However, as she starts her own investigation, it seems that someone else is seeking revenge.
Stylistically, the film is strong, especially in the way it includes social media as something that intrudes upon the screen and the character’s lives. A digital to-do list pops up on-screen early on and continues the thread of mobile devices as of importance to the characters – a way to keep track and perhaps most importantly, see and be seen. There is an acknowledgement of the presence of technology in the slasher format, but it feels like something the script has to work around rather than confront, especially later in the narrative. In fact, that may be most of my problem with the film – no one theme quite feels like it is leading or driving the action. There are several touch points in terms of social media, campus assault, hazing and institutional behaviour but all feel without significant depth. The performances are solid with LaVanchy’s Ellery being the standout.
With the multiple themes not fully explored (or at least not given any new angle) you might accept that the slasher elements are more fleshed out and this, unfortunately, is not quite the case either. The pitching of gore and stalking sequences is solid: enough gore without dwelling and slowing down the runtime. However, with so many (especially postmodern) slashers having led the way for some time in terms of weaving believable red herrings and surprising outcomes, Initiation falls flat, managing to be too obvious and unearned.
An engaging, if unmemorable entry into the slasher genre.
Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May