Rating: 4 out of 5.

From Saban Films, horror film Initiation is 2021’s answer to Scream, minus the meta. The throwback simplicity to the narrative makes it feel like it belongs to a bygone era, where everything released was a different riff on Scream’s whodunnit style. A hip young cast of frat bros and sorority sisters fills up a varied roster of potential victims and prospective suspects. Cyber bullying, more prevalent now than ever in today’s digital age, is front and center in this twisty, gory slashterpiece.

Right in the heart of pledge week, Olympic hopeful Wes (Froy Gutierrez) is found brutally murdered at his fraternity house. The entire community is shaken by the tragic death, sending Whiton University into a tailspin. Wes’s sister, Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy), works to uncover the dark secrets on campus as a masked killer begins slaying students one by one.

Social media presence is vital to the storyline, with DMs, photos, and tags popping up as physical representations of phone displays. Boys who leave exclamation marks on girls they deem as ‘sluts’ is a major plot point. The characters are far more than the simple caricatures we see in most of these films. Froy Gutierrez, adorable Teen Wolf heartthrob, fleshes Wes out despite limited screentime. The brother/sister dynamic is established from early on, building a solid foundation for the direction taken by the story. Ellery is a nuanced and strong female archetype, with believable emotional responses to intense situations. Beau (Gattlin Griffith), the stereotypical bully in any other context, gets a meaty role thanks to Wes’s early exit. Nearly everybody’s a suspect—Initiation is a pure whodunnit slasher through and through, keeping you guessing at the identity of the killer all the way up to the shocking reveal. It takes a while to get through the initial setup of the plot, but when the horror finally kicks in, the lengthy setup really pays off. 

Writer/director John Berardo proves his fluency in the genre, crafting suspenseful, elaborate murders and throwing in a stellar chase scene for good measure. The kills are mean and visceral in their brutality. Every single death pays off in the scope of the bigger picture, though some are more satisfying than others. I found the ending satisfying, but abrupt; it could have continued for five minutes more to elaborate on several plot points. Initiation checks all the boxes for being an instant-favorite and is a film I can see myself enjoying time and time again. Initiation comes to theaters, On Demand, and Digital on May 7th.

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