Initiation (2020) – Film Review

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The college campus is no stranger to the horror genre. Many students have been stalked and slashed within dorm rooms, frat houses and classrooms. Initiation aims to join the Ivy League of slashers like Black Christmas, Sorority Row and Scream 2.

For the uninitiated, this slasher sees Whiton University unravel the night a star-athlete is murdered. Kickstarting 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.

The horror genre has long been a window into the fears of society. Providing the opportunity to explore and comment on what scares us at any particular moment in history. In the 50s, horror and science fiction was powered by terrors from outer space and creatures created from nuclear fallout. The 60s and 70s saw horror move out of gothic castles and into the house next door in Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With the noughties, our obsession with technology came back to haunt us in The Ring and One Missed Call.

This slasher follows in the footsteps of the 2019 remake of Black Christmas and explores the theme of sexual assault. Something that is unfortunately prevalent within campus culture and also the role and influence that social media plays in it.

The visual application of social media here is, perhaps deliberately, overwhelming. When the characters check their phones, a barrage of tweets, texts and Instagram posts flood the screen and it is difficult to keep up with the flow of information (or misinformation) and knowing where to look and what is important. This feeds into the narrative where the female characters are essentially being slutshamed by being tagged for their promiscuity and when they do make a compaint, it is often brushed off by those in power. Instead preferring to maintain their reputation and that of their male star pupils.

In a case of unfortunate timing, the film comes in the wake of Oscar-winner Promising Young Woman. Where Emerald Fennell’s film attacked the subject with a razor sharp wit and a revenge plan fuelled by a ethos of non-violence, Initiation uses brute force to nail its targets… literally. The masked attacker uses a souped-up nailgun as their weapon of choice.

It is admirable that director John Berardo is using the platform and genre to tackle an important subject. He clearly is a fan of the genre and is able to effectively craft suspense and tension. Particularly in the final act where the survivors are trapped in a game of cat-and-mouse to evade the killer. A situation where a mobile phone can be a saviour but also a signal to their location and ultimate doom. However the Scooby Doo-esque unmasking of the killer and rushed denounement ultimately result in the ending falling flat.

It may pledge to be “Gen Z’s answer to Scream” but Initiation doesn’t quite make the grade.

Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Director: John Berardo
Stars: Lindsay LaVanchy, Isabella Gomez, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith
Runtime: 97 minutes
Country: USA

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