A couple years ago, people slammed the remake of Black Christmas because it was more interested in being a story about how men can mistreat women than it was in being a typical slasher movie. Initiation goes the complete opposite way. It starts off seeming as though it has something to say about sexual assault, only to have the message get bogged down in boring old slasher clichés. Maybe people who hated Black Christmas will like this one more. I sure didn't.

Set at the fictional Whiton University, the story begins with a great big kegger. The pledges of a fraternity are supposed to get the sorority sisters drunk and have sex with them. One of the sisters, Ellery Scott (Lindsay LaVanchy), is wise to that scheme, generally looking out for the others. She rescues one girl, Kylie (Isabella Gomez), from the clutches of a particularly sleazy frat boy, only to discover her star athlete brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez) is in the room. Could he possibly have been taking part in violating an intoxicated girl?

That's a set-up with real possibility. But then Wes ends up being murdered, impaled in his dorm room. Other murders follow. A university security guard (Jon Huertas) begins looking into things, as does a local cop (Yancy Butler). The slayings appear to have something to do with the school's history of ignoring sexual assault. There's even a code in which the frat boys can let one another know which girls are likely to have sex by putting an exclamation point near their names on social media.

Initiation loses its way once the killer commences striking. For starters, that individual walks around with a mask on. Why is this necessary when they're waiting until victims are alone to murder them? The answer, as you may guess, is that the screenplay wants to build to a “surprise” revelation about the person's identity. It's a doozy, for sure, and not in a good way. I assumed the picture was following the age-old tradition of having the character who is completely non-essential to the story be the culprit. Instead, there's a gotcha reveal that feels completely forced.

Weak performances hamper the suspense, too. LaVanchy is good, whereas the rest of the actors are either too broad or too flat. Maybe the scenes intended to provide thrills would be more effective if they seemed like people were actually in danger, rather than just pretending to be. Initiation contains way too many scenes of characters being stalked anyway, diluting the themes it theoretically wants to address. Focus shifts to bloody murders rather than the ramifications of a sexual assault. The screenplay tries to bring the theme back at the end, yet the way the story concludes trivializes it.

To the film's credit, the kills are sufficiently gruesome. If nothing else, it delivers on that basic level. The bigger level is where Initiation falls apart. A very good horror movie could be made addressing sexual assault on campus. Black Christmas was one, in fact, because it stayed true to the subject matter. This film, on the other hand, is a tawdry thriller that gives the pretense of taking the issue seriously when it really just uses it as a gimmick.

out of four

Initiation is rated R for strong bloody violence, some crude sexual content, drug use, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.