Producers: Brian Frager, John Berardo, JP Castel, Lindsay Lavanchy, Stephanie Stanziano and Jon Huertas Director: John Berardo Screenplay: John Berardo, Lindsay Lavanchy and Brian Frager Cast: John Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay Lavanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith, Patrick Walker, Brat Johnson, Shireen Lai, James Beraro, Maxwell Hamilton, Kent Faulcon, Mel Fair, Debra De Liso, Yancy Butler and Lochlyn Munro Distributor: Saban Films
Most slasher movies since 1996’s “Scream” have been self-referential and jokey, but John Berardo’s is a throwback to when the genre took itself seriously, or at least tried to, as pure horror. The most deliberately humorous aspect of the old-fashioned picture is the promo version of its “Se7en”-inspired title—“Init!ation,” with the “t” also extended to resemble a drill, the killer’s weapon of choice. And that’s hardly a laugh riot.
In one major respect, though, the movie is quite different from its 1980s predecessors: the victims aren’t nubile coeds but fraternity guys. This, you see, is a “woke” slasher movie, in which the targets are the horny fellows who take advantage of the girls and pay for it with their lives. The basic question, though, is still the same: who’s the masked person doing the killing?
A long first act of the picture recounts the sexist practices of the fraternity at Whiton University headed by Beau (Gattlin Griffin), which uses social media to categorize sorority sisters in terms of their physical attributes and availability. Wes (Froy Gutierrez), a swimmer destined for the Olympics, finds the practice distasteful, even though he’s previously been accused of sexual harassment, while others, like Dylan (director Berardo), mutely go along with it, desperate to be accepted by their brothers.
The plot kicks in when Wes is brutally murdered by a cloaked figure wearing a silver mask. The authorities quickly enter the scene—Detective Fitzgerald (Yancy Butler), Campus Chief Tahan (Kent Faulcon) and Officer Martinez (John Huertas). But that doesn’t stop the killings.
Inevitably drawn into the mayhem are the sorority girls, most notably Kylie (Isabella Gomez), the daughter of Officer Martinez who was may have been the victim of an assault by Wes or Beau, and Ellery (co-writer and producer Lindsay Lavanchy), Wes’s sister who’s been using university facilities to try to identify the person who attacked Kylie. Naturally Bruce Van Horn (Lochlyn Munro), the ultra-smooth chancellor of the university, also gets involved, as does Beau’s father (Mel Fair). Both, however, are more concerned with seeing the reputations of the school and the fraternity protected than seeing justice done.
Two other gruesome deaths follow, one in which the victim is attacked in a bathroom stall and a second while the target is masturbating. The climax comes when Ellery and Kylie—along with a few others—are trapped in the university’s administration building with the killer, whose identity is finally revealed—a disclosure many viewers will consider farfetched at best, a cheat at worst.
Performances throughout are adequate but pretty anonymous except for veteran Munro, who brings his customary smarminess to the role of the oily chancellor. Beraro’s direction is too often stodgy when it should be exciting and Kristina E. Lyons’ lackadaisical editing accentuates the lethargic feel.
But the visual side is noteworthy—not so much for Jonathan Pope’s competent but average cinematography or Brenton Berna’s mediocre production design, but for a decision to employ bombardments of texts and social media posts to portray both the frat brothers’ rumor mill about their conquests (that titular exclamation point is a major symbol in their messages) and news reports on the campus slaughter. It’s a pity the messages fly by in such profusion that it’s impossible to read most of them. Alexander Arntzen’s score doesn’t add much.
Beraro’s attempt to meld the traditional slasher template with contemporary social concerns is an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite come off.