INITIATION movie poster | ©2021 Saban

INITIATION movie poster | ©2021 Saban

Stars: Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay Lavanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith, Patrick Walker, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, James Berardo, Maxwell Hamilton, Kent Faulcon, Mel Fair, Debra Di Liso, Yancy Butler, Lochlyn Munro
Writers: John Berardo, Lindsay Lavanchy, Brian Frager
Director: John Berardo
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: May 7, 2021

 INITIATION is a surprisingly ambitious slasher. It starts out as something absolutely familiar – debauchery at a college frat house – and then turns out to have issues on its mind.

In fact, INITIATION winds up tackling so much that it can’t quite get its metaphorical arms around all it tries to encompass. Still, the efforts are worth watching.

We meet dedicated undergrad laboratory researcher Ellery Scott (Lindsay Lavanchy, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and her brother, college swimming star Wes (Froy Gutierrez). They’re both in the Greek system. There’s a pledge week event where Ellery’s sorority sister Kylie (Isabella Gomez) gets drunk, possibly roofied, and winds up in a room with Wes and his vile frat brother Beau (Gattlin Griffith).

Beau has made a sport of bedding sorority members, then slut-shaming them on social media with an exclamation point, so that his fraternity mates will know the young women are a) easy, b) trash, or both.

Kylie wakes up with no memory of what happened. So does Wes, who seems so preoccupied that, for the first third of INITIATION, we wonder exactly what happened to whom.

Then INITIATION kicks into hard-R kill mode, but not quite in the way we might expect. This probably won’t get the movie into serious discussions about depictions of campus sexual abuse, but it’s much more female-friendly than films which suggest that rape victims and their friends should all commit suicide (unlike one recent prestige picture, for instance).

Director John Berardo, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lavanchy and Brian Frager, has an eye for claustrophobia and brutal rage. He’s also good with emotion. The characters have realistic reactions to death and to fear of the legal system.

Where INITIATION wobbles a bit isn’t in its mixture of gore and commentary on real-world matters of abuse. Instead, it never quite tries together what it wants to say about college rape culture with the hazards of social media bullying.

Despite helpful graphics that appear as large images within scenes (rather than endless shots of mobile phone screens), all of the texting doesn’t propel the plot very far. There is one key bit of information that a certain character gets from a post, but this knowledge is obtainable in other ways.

There’s also a late-in-the-day logic glitch, where someone inside has locked all doors from outside. If this were supernatural horror, that would be fine, but it’s not.

INITIATION succeeds in getting us to ponder certain elements that most films in this subgenre take for granted. To discuss it here would risk spoilers, but it will certainly prompt some lively after-viewing conversations.

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