In Initiation, Whiton University unravels the night a star-athlete is murdered, kicking off 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.

Note: this review contains mild plot spoilers for how the drama of the film plays out. (But it doesn’t reveal the big twist/the killer’s identity.)

Initiation Review

So here’s the thing. Initiation is really two types of movies blended into one: a subversive drama AND a cheesy slasher flick. In isolating each of those genres, Initiation does both fairly well. Where it fails is making them come together into something meaningful and cohesive.

Let’s start with the dramatic element. (This is where I’m going to bring up some mild plot spoilers.) 

Initiation dives into some real, heavy-hitting drama, shining a light on some of the biggest problems facing college students today: fraternity hazing, cyberbullying, and sexual assault. Honestly, the depth of the story surprised me. Plus, the film handled difficult topics in a way that didn’t undercut their importance, but also didn’t feel like trauma porn.

The movie kicks off with a frat party, introducing our core cast. The morning after, Kylie (Isabella Gomez) reveals to her friends Ellery and Shayleen (Lindsay LaVanchy, Shireen Lai) she thinks she may have been sexually assaulted the night before. And to complicate things even further, we learn Ellery’s brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) was one of the guys in the room when it happened. 

It’s actually a really interesting, complicated look at the fallout of sexual assault. We see Ellery torn between her loyalty to her brother (and her desire to believe he wouldn’t be capable of something so terrible) and her need to believe and support her friend. The plot dives into university politics and how people in charge reduce such cases into “he said, she said” stories. Initiation also dives into cyberbullying and how rumors spread on social media. Plus, it taps into the pressure of needing to always be online and accessible to others.

All in all, it’s way too interesting and nuanced for your standard slasher flick.

But instead of sticking with a pretty solid dramatic premise, Initiation takes a hard left into the horror genre. After 30 minutes of dramatic setup, we get our first gruesome murder.

After that, you’ve got your typical gory kills, many laced with a certain edge of dark humor. On its own, the killer plot is fine, hitting the beats you would expect from a teen slasher flick: the sudden appearance of a masked figure, catching the victims off guard, violent deaths and macabrely displayed bodies. And ultimately the reveal is pretty solid, too – the movie lets you guess the why easily enough, but the who stays shrouded in mystery until the final reveal.

The problem is, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the seriousness of the story the film started with. You’re left with something that starts out too slow and plot heavy to be a great slasher movie, and ends with too much campy killing to be a high-level drama.

Initiation isn’t a bad movie, just one I wish had played out differently. I honestly think by getting rid of the slasher flick elements, this could have been a really impactful dramatic thriller. (You could even still have all the murders, just make them less outlandish and slasher-flick-y to sync with the more serious premise.) Still, I have to give this one props for trying something different. I appreciate the idea that slasher horror could be elevated, even if I don’t think Initiation pulls it off 100%.

Initiation premieres Friday, May 7.