Welcome to Knockout Horror and to a Horror Movie Review. We have another Social Media Themed Horror movie for you today. We are taking a look at John Berardo’s slasher Initiation. Social media themed horror has been a bit of thing for us this year. Having covered quite a few. They have been a mix of both great and awful. This type of horror can come under a number of different guises. Some place the focus on social media influencers. Others simply use social media platforms as a way of building or presenting the story. Either way, both aim to make their stories current and timely. Initiation falls into the latter category.
Wanting to present itself as something of a more mature approach to the slasher genre. Initiation plays out in a slower manner than many similar movies. Choosing to build a plot that wants to be both traditional and socially conscious. Initiation reflects the social struggles that the youth of today face. Both as a more connected group of people and as a terminally online generation.
The themes discussed here are both familiar and rather troubling. This could have been a rather important horror movie with a strong message. Unfortunately, the talent at play is just not capable of executing. The result is a horror that feels like a slightly more mature version of 2019’s Black Christmas. Initiation is a real swing and a miss. Let’s take a look.
Initiation focuses on the story of a few members of a university campus. A sorority sister, Kylie, is found unconscious in the locked bedroom of 3 frat brothers. Kylie’s friend Ellery thinks that her brother, Wes, may be the culprit as he was in the room. Wes has, previously, faced accusations of committing the same crime. After seeing a social media post that Wes commented on, cruelly mocking Kylie. Ellery becomes determined to find out if her brother did it. It may be too late, however, as Wes is viciously murdered while at the frat house. The question is, who was the culprit? The answer? You will never know because all of that intrigue quickly evaporates. Only to be replaced with boring slasher bullshit.
Initiation basically plays out as something of a drama. Lightly seasoned with overly familiar slasher kills. Ellery seeks to find out whether her brother committed the crime. So it’s off to the lab for some DNA sequencing. But wait, we need to push that aside for about 40 minutes. A killer is on the loose randomly killing frat boys. Better transform into a by-the-numbers slasher movie. A few red herrings fly at the viewer’s face, assuming them to be idiots. An initially promising theme disappears, smashed violently against the wall. The big twist is revealed. A scene ripped right out of the Saw movies plays. The viewer rolls their eyes. The end!
Initiation aims to present itself as a slasher with a conscience. Based on a short movie developed as a class project on the theme of social change. Berardo wanted to turn his short Dembanger into a feature length slasher. Aiming to capitalise on the popularity of films like Unfriended. Berardo said he didn’t want to present his characters as tropes. He disliked the standard slasher presentation of women.
Viewing them as idiotic, half dressed, victims in waiting. He claimed this was inherently misogynistic. He ridiculed tropes of characters chased by men wielding “phallic shaped objects”. I am not sure what Berardo is packing in his pants. But describing a knife as Phallic shaped is a bit of a stretch. Still, it is very in keeping with some of the half baked themes at play in Initiation.
Like a politician on the campaign trail. Initiation doesn’t even come close to living up to its promises and lofty ideals. Presenting the troubling and complex issue of sexual assault as a side plot. A side plot that is quickly abandoned for tedious horror tropes. Initiation quickly plays to type.
Our killer chases both men and women with a knife and a drill. The women run away screaming. They hide in stupid places. And, when they fight back, they drop their weapon and run away rather than making the kill. Its painfully familiar but the acrid smell of self satisfied pretention permeates everything. In a way, it makes the movie a lot worse. This could have been fantastic. Instead, it was left in the hands of someone incapable of delivering on the promising message.
I feel like we are, perhaps, due for a whole bevy of similar movies to this. Men making horror films about issues that women should be the ones to talk about. I always lament the fact that Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas was so bad. That could have been the feminist slasher that everyone needed to see. Instead, it was terrible. Now we have men using these themes to make their movies appeal to the socially conscious.
And I say this as a man. Don’t get me wrong, speaking up is great. Men calling out toxic male culture is important. Wanting to touch on troubling social issues is admirable. Touching on them briefly to benefit from the association. Only to push them to one side as a quickly forgotten side plot, is not. Attempts to tie said issues into the ending feel woefully half baked. I’d go as far as to say it feels like a “not all men” moment. Making light of the issues at hand.
This really only speaks to some of the problems with Initiation, though. This is a painfully boring horror flick. Decent cinematography hints at the potential for something worth watching. The movie never manages to rise above painfully average slasher, though. The social media element is hinted at.. And I mean hinted in the loosest sense of the word.
Once again, utilising genuine real world social issues as minor plot devices. Only to discard them when keeping them as a central theme becomes more difficult. Initiation always takes the easy way out when the story calls for nuance. The presentation of onscreen social media posts and messages may feel novel for some. For others who have played video games like Detroit: Become Human. It will feel overly familiar. Initiation has all been done before. It is tired and very worn out.
The slasher element plays out like every other middle of the road slasher you have ever seen. A character has a few moments alone. In those moments, a masked figure appears with no explanation. The killer and the victim scuffle, the killer wins. Rinse and repeat. It is so boringly familiar and all leads up to an ending that doesn’t know how to exit stage left. Initiation does absolutely nothing new. If the movie didn’t feature the half baked inclusion of real world hot button topics. There would be virtually nothing to talk about.
By the time the ending actually bothers to wrap itself up. Hammering the viewer with exposition like the final scenes of a dollar store version of Saw. I doubt the viewer will care in the slightest. As he does with many of the half baked social issues inserted into Initiation. Berardo tries to differentiate the movie and make it memorable. He does this by pulling the rug from under the viewer’s feet with the ending. Despite this, I actually called it fairly early on. I am not saying it was predictable. But I felt as though it was staring me in the face.
My fiancée laughed at me because my theory sounded so ridiculous. I then proceeded to bombard her with ridiculous comments for the entire movie. “Why would you do such an awful thing *suspected killer’s name*”. “You were such a good person”. And the like, much to her annoyance. As the ending unfolded and my theory turned out to be correct. We both laughed our asses off at how silly it was. Which brings me onto another point.
This movie can be unintentionally hilarious. There are so many instances of silliness in Initiation. Aside from the convoluted plot and poorly done social media aspects. Oh and the ending that fits about as well as a couch in a toilet cubicle. The vapid text message interactions between characters feel like AI conversations. They are awkwardly shoehorned in for extra flavour and feel utterly pointless. But these aren’t the most obvious example of silliness present in Initiation.
That accolade belongs to the age of some of the actors. Acting is, generally, pretty average wall to wall. Aside from the shockingly bad performance of Mel Fair as Beau’s dad. Whose repeated use of the phrase “bull shit”. Delivered in the style of an 1800’s ranch owner is genuinely painful to endure. Nobody at all stands out. Veteran actors Yancy Butler, who plays Detective Fitzgerald, and Lochlyn Munro are both okay. Who would have thought, after Scary Movie, all those years ago. That, in the 2020s, Munroe would be starring in another slasher with an even sillier plot?
The thing that does stand out, however, is that these are young people. Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters in their late teens and early 20s. Despite that, most of the actors here looked like they were, perhaps, in their late 20s. A few of them looked even older. Late 20s would be a real stretch for a couple who look as though they have spent the past 5 years towing 30.. It is ridiculous. This is one of the most egregious examples of older actors playing young people I have seen. Much of it is obvious nepotism at play. Friends and family of the director have been placed into central roles.
The only actors notable for looking their age here are Gattlin Griffith, as Beau, and Froy Gutierrez, as Wes. These two look to be in their early to mid 20s and are believable as frat boys. Some of the girls look within a few years of college age. The rest of the cast looks so much older. One scene featuring a group sitting around the table really stood out. They look like a bunch of 30 somethings in the pub complaining about their work and young kids. It’s most apparent in a few characters that see a lot of screen time.
Lindsay LaVanchy, who has producing and writing credits. Thought it fine to take up the starring role of “hero sorority sister” Ellery. I get it, she starred in Berardo’s short, Dembanger. He maybe wanted to work with her again. Did he not think that someone who was in their 20s in 2014. Might, actually, have aged a bit, though? She’s okay but chews the hell out of the scenery in parts. The problem is, if you told me she was in her late 30s, I would have believed you. She’s actually mid 3os from what I can find out. She definitely doesn’t look early 20s, though, let’s put it that way. I’m really not trying to be mean here. Facts are facts at the end of the day. We age, it sucks but it is true. She looks wildly out of place running around a frat house in a bikini.
Even worse than that is James Berardo. I am assuming this is writer and director John Berardo’s brother or something? He looks like is in his mid 30’s, at least. I understand wanting a relative to star in your movie. But he could have cast him as a cop or a teacher. It’s so jarring seeing him sit among the other students at the party. He looks like he has sneaked in. One scene had my fiancée literally crying with laughter. Berardo sits talking in a child like, nervous, manner to an investigator. He is wearing badly clipped up, ankle length, denim dungarees. Accessorised with the type of five o’clock shadow that only comes from having seen some shit. As my fiancée so astutely remarked. They may as well have put a propeller hat on him for how much younger they were trying to make him look.
Imagine having the audacity to take a role from a young actor. Not caring that you are casting friends and family that look at least 10 years too old for the character. Directors, writers and producers inserting themselves, and friends, into the cast can be so frustrating. It’s incredibly arrogant unless you are particularly talented as an actor. LaVanchy and Berardo bring absolutely nothing to this movie. Their roles, absolutely, should have gone to struggling young actors. There is no room for debate and they deserve the criticism I am levying at them. They could have played different roles, simple.
This just speaks to the bigger issue with Initiation. It is just a vehicle for the creators and little else. It attempts to talk about important and delicate societal topics. But never actually gets past pointing out that they are a thing and that they happen. It attempts to point the finger at people’s dependence on social media. While never actually pointing out anything. Other than the fact that people, when they can hide behind a screen, are a bit shit. It aims to portray characters as something other than dumb, vapid, horror stereotypes. All while having them act like that very thing. Running away screaming and hiding in rooms with ceiling to ceiling glass windows.
Initiation wants to be so much more than it is. The reality, however, is that it is a painfully middle of the road slasher. This movie is plagued with fake reviews on IMDB, as well. Many from reviewers that signed up a month before the movie’s release. All are poorly worded and awarded the film 10/10. Said reviewers have all reviewed the same set of 3 or 4 movies. Most of them Indian movies. And have never reviewed another Western horror. Production companies that pay for this kind of promotion are the absolute worst. Initiation’s 5/10 IMDB rating would be a lot lower were it not for paid ratings. Unfortunately, it seems the horror genre falls foul of this trend more than any other.
Initiation is a middle of the road, Social Media Themed, Slasher movie. Aiming to be somewhat more socially conscious and mature than your average slasher. The result is a movie that is a painfully slow watch with very little to recommend. Fake reviews on Movie database sites hint at the lack of faith the production team had in Initiation. I am not saying nobody will enjoy this movie. It is incredibly average. If you desire some slasher fun, you might find plenty to like. It has a killer and he kills people. Slashers don't really need much more than these basic components.
Still, it doesn't make you think, the acting is extremely average and the plot is a convoluted mess. It is quick to abandon its promising, and important, themes. Casually replacing them with milquetoast slasher tropes. Older actors playing young characters is jarring and the ending is silly. Only the most tolerant or easily pleased of horror fans need apply.