Pledge week. Carefree, fun filled, party weekend. The perfect time for Whiton University to become the scene of a brutal crime which leaves their star athlete murdered. In the midst of grief and chaos, the deeper truth behind the murder, and the not-so-pristine past of the athlete, and the University, come to light. Bereaved sister Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) has to fight her sibling love to find the truth behind who is stalking and ravaging their campus – and it may not be the murderer that’s the root of the terror.

Here we are again – another college-age revenge tale, focusing on the rampant and unbelievable ignorance surrounding the sexual crimes that occur daily on college campuses. Like many that have come out recently, this film focuses blame not just on the perpetrators themselves, but on the administrations and leadership members that ignore and distract from the disgusting truth of these crimes. In a new and brilliant take, Initiation highlights the family members left behind in the disturbing wake of these crimes. LaVanchy gives an emotionally nuanced and embittered performance as Ellery as she unravels the story of her best friend’s assault, and her brother’s murder – and the disturbing tie between the two.

Initiation is your run-of-the-mill slasher flick, with a more-than-average amount of social commentary thrown in. The hits edge out the misses, but only slightly, and it feels like director John Berardo may not have had a complete grasp on his own material – which he co-wrote with Brian Frager and the aforementioned LaVanchy. It’s easy to see the male gaze dripping from portions of the script – not in a sexual or fetishizing way as much as a complete lack of empathy for the deep truth and scars of assault, which is then blindsided by what I can only imagine are portions of the script written by LaVanchy’s capable, and much more empathetic hand.

Unfortunately, as wonderful, nuanced, and bravely bold as LaVanchy is – we run into an all too common problem with her performance in Initiation. As happens far, far too often in film, she is a 30+ year old portraying a college student. Her maturity adds boundless layers to her performance – and she’s wonderful in every frame of film she graces – but I can’t help feeling like she has outgrown her college years. One day I would love for “Hollywood” to get the memo – we can tell when you cast older actors as younger characters, and it is distracting, in spite of their best efforts to win us over.

An unfortunate amount of spotlight is placed on the use of social media and smartphones. While I’m well aware that “young people” are glued to their devices, and social media can be just as toxic as it is unifying and useful, it’s a tired trope that also loses steam about halfway through the film – what starts as an aesthetic choice showing what’s happening on screen and how texts and messages are flying back and forth sort of fizzles by the third act of the film. It’s too common now to play the “what the texts really said,” he said/she said game, and it also feels like an unnecessary and overwrought jab at Gen Z.

All in all, Initiation gets close – but not quite there. A sudden reveal at the end wraps up loose ends neatly but perhaps not interestingly. The red herrings are obvious, and blaring, and underwritten but overperformed. The gore flows, but feels out of place amidst the social commentary around it. Initiation has too much fun to be dramatic, and too much drama to be the fun, slasher romp we hope it will be.

4 out of 10


Runtime:1 Hr. 36 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By:


About the Author: Miranda Riddle

Makeup Artist, Monster Maker, Educator, Producer, Haunt-lover, and all around Halloween freak. When Miranda isn't watching horror films, she's making them happen. When she's not doing either of those things, she's probably dreaming about them. Or baking cookies.