In Theaters, On Demand and Digital
MAY 7, 2021
Starring: Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay Lavanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith, Patrick Walker, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, Kent Faulcon with Yancy Butler and Lochlyn Munro
Directed By: John Berardo
Written By: John Berardo, Brian Frager, Lindsay LaVanchy
During a university’s pledge week, the carefree partying turns deadly serious when a star athlete is found impaled in his dorm. The murder ignites a spree of sinister social-media messages, sweeping the students and police into a race against time to uncover the truth behind the school’s dark secrets…and the horrifying meaning of a recurring symbol: a single exclamation mark.
Run Time: 97 minutes | Rating: R
Initiation started when I was 11 years old at a friend’s party, I watched my first r-rated movie: Scream. Movies were always a way to escape my world, a loving christian household in the middle of Oklahoma. Though I watched as many as I could, I was still censored and never allowed to watch such a violent movie. The moment we pushed that Blockbuster VHS into the player, my future goals and dreams became clearer. Scream was shocking, scary, even a funny cultural product; but most importantly, it deeply inspired me. I never felt such stimulation from fear. This was the beginning of my love for the horror genre. I became obsessed, feeding my knowledge by watching all the 90’s slasher films as well as every classic and true crime story from decades past. My parents realized there was no way to continue and try to control what I watched and joked that I would grow up and become a serial killer or direct horror movies.
The Initiation script was developed during my second year of grad school, the year I came out of the closet. I was 25 years old and came to the realization that if I continued lying to myself, the movies I made would be a product of what I was suppressing. Initiation began with the belief that fear wasn’t just personal, but universal. I made the short film for a USC School of Cinematic Arts class, Making Media for Social Change. The goal of the class was to make a movie with a topical message to the current social climate. What I learned from making the short gave the feature script an authentic approach to telling a story that creates “a call to action,” compels the audience to do something. This approach forces us to face the darkest parts of ourselves and that’s where we can discover the light for change.
Initiation begins as a mystery-thriller. At the center is a college senior, Ellery, who is forced to face her own denial of her brother’s involvement in the sexual assault of one of her sorority sisters. Ellery’s story is driven by truth but also doubt. The obstacles begin as suppressed and internal; they are haunted by the hidden secrets of her university and denying her brother’s involvement. The obstacles become external as doubt boils inside; ultimately pushing Ellery to illegally test DNA from her friends clothes to try and undo the denial she created herself. The movie takes a slasher turn when a string of social media related murders happen on campus that all seem to relate to the incident that sparks Ellery’s main conflict. The clock starts to tick as Ellery tries to uncover the truth before falling victim to the killer’s murder spree.
The experience I’m trying to most communicate with Initiation is an enjoyable and hyper-realistic ride that pays homage to the movies I was inspired by but with a modern take for today’s generation. We even constructed every detail of the killer’s mask to fit in the realm of genre-referencing with a new twist. The movie is important because it challenges consistent horror themes of misogyny, family, sex, and death by taking these genre standards and turning them upside-down with characters and a story we’re sucked into and care about. Initiation is about truth, power, the ability to change, and how deeply important sisterhood is for life’s challenging moments. Making this movie was a seven year journey and every stage of the process has shaped it. We only get to tell this story once, so I wanted it to be an internal and external ride for a big audience that’s terrifying, progressive, and original. Something that deeply connects and inspires people the same way I was 20 years ago.