The seed for writer/director John Berardo’s timely slasher shocker, Initiation, was first planted way back when he was all of 11 years young watching his first R-rated film at a friend’s party. The film in question was Wes Craven’s SCREAM and the second he and his pushed that particular Blockbuster VHS into the VCR unit, he became obsessed with the horror genre, feeding his knowledge by watching all the 90’s slasher films as well as every classic and true crime story from decades past.
Talking about his latest endeavour, he recalls how he developed the Initiation script during his second year of grad school: “It was the year I came out of the closet. I was 25 years old and came to the realisation 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.”
Year’s before filming Initiation, the whole idea started life as a short film he made 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 and everything Berardo learned from making that short gave the feature script an authentic approach to telling a story that creates “a call to action” and compels the audience to do something.
Penned by Berardo, Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy and starring Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Froy Gutierrez, Lochlyn Munro as well as co-writer Lavanchy, Initiation sees the protagonists in the throes of their university’s pledge week. Carefree partying soon takes a turn for the sinister when a star athlete is discovered 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.
As the film releases in theatres, On Demand and Digital today, May 7, SCREAM sat down with Berardo who revealed why he chose to centre his slasher on the toxic nature of social media and how this focal point took on a whole character and language of its own…
Words: Howard Gorman