INITIATION Blu-ray Review – A Film that Never Realizes its Full Potential
Starring: Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, and Froy Gutierrez
Written by: John Berardo, Lindsay LaVanchy, and Brian Frager
Directed by: John Berardo
I really, really wanted to like Initiation. Its messaging about toxic bro culture and misogynistic behavior is timely and relevant. But I didn’t really connect with the film. While it had the potential to be a satisfying viewing experience, the flick’s flaws shine a little brighter than its aspirations.
Initiation sees a group of friends on Greek Row targeted by a serial killer with a power drill and a score to settle. As the students and authorities race to uncover the killer’s identity, the bodies continue to pile up.
Before I get into what didn’t work, I want to call out a few things that did because the film doesn’t get everything wrong. To begin, I appreciate the fact that Initiation calls out the heinous nature of sexual assault and our society’s unhealthy relationship with social media. I also dug the killer’s signature death implement. We don’t see enough power tools in slasher films and I liked the idea of a killer that drills/screws his victims to death. I was also impressed by how goopy and visceral the effects were. Moreover, there is some great cinematography, particularly in the underwater sequences.
As for what didn’t work as well, one of my chief concerns is with the pacing. Much of the first hour (and even beyond) is spent laying the groundwork for a finale that feels like it’s over in mere moments. Also, because the killer is targeting a specific group of people for very specific reasons (which is pretty easy to figure out if you’re paying attention) the characters we are expected to invest in never really feel like they are in any grave danger. As such, a lot of the action sequences in Initiation come across as anticlimactic and underwhelming.
I say ‘characters we are expected to invest in’ because I was never able to fully get on board with any of the leads. Lindsay LaVanchy (who also cowrote) turns in a serviceable performance as Ellery, whose sorority sister was assaulted by Ellery’s brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez). But Ellery is a bit under-developed and I never felt a compelling reason to invest in her plight.
I was also a little bummed with the gratuitous use of red herrings. Is the killer the creepy lab manager or the frat bro’s ultra-aggressive father? It seems as though Initiation co-writer and director John Berardo would like us to think so.
I like the exaggerated use of red herrings in gialli because it’s part of the camp factor and the entire affair is exaggerated in the best possible way. But almost every other element here is played straight. So, the camera slowly panning away from the could-be-killer while he makes an angry face and stares off into the distance didn’t resonate with me. It felt ham-fisted and overly dramatic.
In addition to my concerns with the pacing and excessive use of red herrings, I also found that the juxtaposition of horror film and police procedural didn’t really gel. It has worked brilliantly in several of the Saw flicks. But here, the two don’t integrate as seamlessly as they should.
All in, Initiation offered up a premise that had promise but didn’t quite live up to it. I think director John Berardo has potential as a filmmaker but this just wasn’t my cup of tea. His aspirations are admirable, yet the execution is lacking.
As for the film’s home video release: I appreciate the care that went into packaging the special features. And I think people who enjoyed the picture more than I did may have fun diving in. There is a thirty-minute featurette where the creative team talks about their inspirations, namely Scream, as well as how the flick originated and evolved into that which I am critiquing here. Also included is a brief featurette on the implementation of using social media as an onscreen narrative tool.
Initiation is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and On Demand.
Initiation has some of the ingredients of a great slasher but sadly does not realize its full potential.