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  Initiation Fails For Toxic Males
Year: 2020
Director: John Berardo
Stars: Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Guttierez, James Berardo, Gattlin Griffith, Adin Kolanski, Shireen Lai, Patrick R. Walker, Maxwell Hamilton, Bart Johnson, John Huertas, Kent Faulcon, Yancy Butler, Lochlyn Munro, Nick Ballard, Shalini Bathina
Genre: Horror, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Brother and sister Wes (Froy Guttierez) and Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) attend the same university where they are living on campus, and are popular enough to join in with the constant fraternity and sorority hijinks, though perhaps Ellery is more committed to her coursework, as Wes has a chance to compete in the upcoming Olympics as a swimmer, but is finding his concentration beginning to wane. Tonight, after a lot of hazing, their respective houses hold a party where plenty of alcohol is consumed and marijuana is smoked, but when Ellery's friend Kylie (Isabella Gomez) is left alone upstairs, something bad happens...

And like the domino effect, because that bad thing has occurred, a selection of other misfortunes arise, for the suspicion is that she has been sexually assaulted while she was passed out, in an echo of a hushed-up potential scandal from the previous year. Could it be that there is a repeat offender on the grounds? So begins what looks like a serious drama about a pressing issue, how rape and sexual criminality had become dreadfully prevalent across the universities and colleges of the world, a problem the authorities seemed reluctant to do something about, or even know what course of action to take to prevent it happening again and set out punishment.

But director John Berardo had his heart set on a different genre, the horror one, therefore what you were actually watching was a slasher movie with pretensions to social commentary. While Scream in the late nineteen-nineties had made slashers cool again, it had also made it cool to laugh at them - deliberately, as it was partly a comedy - and therefore difficult to be sincere about, yet Initiation had other ideas. Bringing on star LaVanchy to punch up the script, its purpose was to do the opposite of Scream (or Scream 2, to be more precise, also set on a campus), and that was to bring a tone of gravity to what ordinarily were throwaway efforts.

Whether slasher flicks really needed this was debatable in itself, but you had to admit if you really wanted one which took on the hot button matter of institutional misogyny and its effects, Berardo and his team didn't do too bad a job. This tone, akin to a docudrama in places, certainly made the film stand out, not hugely but enough to make you aware something alternative was being tried in a style that was often straitjacketed by its very strict conventions. Not that here was a film that revolutionised those conventions, it should be pointed out, as the last half hour did feature the accustomed runaround to escape from a masked murderer, though here, too was a take on the material that was, if not unique, then something rarely attempted in this kind of shocker.

If you knew about the titular slaughterer's victims in Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, for instance, then you might be ahead of the film if you noticed who was being offed, though chances were for the big unmasking the identity of the culprit would probably be a surprise, possibly thanks to that character purposefully not making a major impression. But his modus operandi, the use of a power drill to screw his quarry to the nearest door or floor, was at least traditional and a nod to the Ferrara cult grime chiller and provided the opportunity for some very bloody and not too shabby makeup effects on a smaller budget than Wes Craven had had to work with. You could understand why Initiation rubbed some up the wrong way, some thought it was trivialising its concerns rather than bringing them to centre stage, while others felt they did not need to be lectured, even in a film set in a university, but it was trying something unusual, and if you were sympathetic, you would be surprisingly engrossed, especially if you got over the opening obnoxiousness of the first twenty minutes. Music by Alexander Arntzen.

[Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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