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John Berardo
Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez
Writing Credits:
John Berardo, Lindsay LaVanchy, Brian Frager

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.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 7/20/2021

• “Hidden Secrets” Featurette
• “The Final Twist” Featurette


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Initiation [Blu-Ray] (2020)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 27, 2021)

Will horror fans view 2020’s Initiation as a reboot of 1984’s The Initiation? Probably not – mainly because hardly anyone remembers the 1984 movie.

Both take place on university campuses, though, and for the 2020 flick, we head to fictional Whiton College. During fraternity/sorority Pledge Week, star athlete Wes Scott (Froy Gutierrez) gets murdered in a gruesome manner.

This leads to the inevitable panic along with more killings. As Wes’s sister Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) deals with grief, authorities race to identify the culprit, a journey that leads to the discovery of a mix of sinister secrets.

I’ll give Initiation credit for this: it throws some curveballs our way. For roughly the first half of the film, it plays much more as a drama about date rape and the toxic campus culture.

This creates an intriguing twist for the genre. Given various publicity elements, we expect a standard horror flick, so the more serious tone creates an unexpected change of pace.

And then… not so much. After the movie follows these themes for so long, it suddenly goes “oh crap – I’m a slasher flick!” and leaps into that genre headfirst.

This seems like a mistake. The two halves of the movie fail to coalesce in a logical manner, so the shift from somber drama to violent horror effort creates a jarring change.

Like all movies of this genre, Initiation sets up the usual red herrings and list of suspects. Unlike most movies of this genre, though, it gives us a culprit who I believe virtually no one will predict.

This feels like a massive cheat, as a good slasher movie should toy with the audience but still offer a killer who the audience can figure out along the way. Maybe others will disagree, but I think we get no viable clues.

At the end, we get a series of flashbacks that imply hints the flick provides, but not a single one acts as a legitimate way to discern the perpetrator. Sure, all these “clues” connect this person to events, but none really point the viewer in the right direction.

Honestly, this becomes my biggest complaint, as any movie of this sort should allow the observant members of the audience a realistic chance to solve the puzzle. When we get to the end of Initiation, what should offer a satisfying moment of revelation becomes annoying and aggravating.

The actors do pretty well in their roles, though LaVanchy seems far too old for her role. In her early 30s during the shoot, she’s literally a decade older than most of her costars, and she doesn’t remotely pass for a college student.

I get that LaVanchy co-wrote the script and goes back with director/co-writer John Berardo, but that seems like a bad reason to include someone in the cast. While LaVanchy gives a quality performance, the fact she doesn’t look anything like a 21-year-old becomes a persistent distraction.

Because it comes with some unusual elements, I find Initiation to work better than a lot of its genre peers. Unfortunately, it fumbles the ball in the second half and doesn’t live up to its potential.

Footnote: the material for this flick can’t decide whether to call the movie Initiation or Init!ation. An exclamation point plays a role in the story so I suspect the filmmakers prefer the latter, but the box art shows both so I went with the easier to type one.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Initiation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer presented the film in an appealing manner.

Sharpness looked good. A smidgen of softness hit some wider shots, but those instances remained insubstantial, so the majority of the flick showed fine clarity and accuracy.

Jaggies and shimmering failed to distract, and edge haloes remained absent. The movie also lacked any source flaws and was consistently clean.

In terms of colors, Initiation went with standard amber and teal most of the time, though party scenes threw out some bold purples, pinks and reds. The hues worked well within the design choices.

Blacks were pretty deep, and shadows were well-depicted, an important factor given the potentially murky interior settings. The image offered a “B+” presentation.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it lacked a ton of ambition, though I didn’t view that as a flaw. A story like this came heavy on ambience and light on opportunities for fireworks, so the absence of showy sequences failed to become a problem.

When the action heated up, however, the mix reflected that and used the spectrum well. Music filled the various channels in a satisfying manner, and effects fleshed out the spectrum in a logical way. Nothing dazzled but the mix seemed suitable for the material.

Audio quality pleased. Speech was concise and natural, while effects remained accurate and full-bodied.

Music was vibrant and dynamic. While this was never an especially memorable track, it worked for the story.

Two featurettes appear here, and Hidden Secrets runs 30 minutes, seven seconds. It provides notes from director/co-writer John Berardo, co-writer Brian Frager, writer/actor Lindsay LaVanchy, director of photography Jonathan Pope, producer/actor Jon Huertas, and actors James Berardo, Maxwell Hamilton, Shireen Lai, Isabella Gomez, Patrick Walker, Kent Faulcon and Gattlin Griffith.

“Secrets” looks at the roots of Initiation and its path to the screen, story/characters/influences, storyboards and photography, costumes, cast and performances, weapons, sets and locations, effects, gore and stunts, and valedictory thoughts about the film. “Secrets” peters out toward its end, but for the most part, it brings a pretty informative overview of the production.

The Final Twist lasts six minutes, 36 seconds and offers into from John Berardo, Frager, Pope, LaVanchy, and executive producer Anton Andreacchio.

“Twist” examines the integration of social media elements used as graphics in the movie plus the title sequence, editing and audio. This turns into a brief but tight discussion of the topics.

Though I respect the fact that Initiation attempts something a little different for the horror genre, it feels too undercooked to work. The movie brings intriguing elements to the table but it falters in the end. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and audio along with two featurettes. I want to like this movie but find too many flaws.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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