Initiation Director John Berardo on How Social Media Plays Into The Slasher Movie (And Where He Held It Back)

Tomorrow sees the release of Initiation from Saban Films. In the movie, directed by John Berardo, a male college student is murdered shortly after a young woman is seemingly sexually assaulted during a party in his frat. What happens next is a slasher movie that unfolds among a pledge week, as the school's dean tries to keep a lid on the investigation to the best of his ability since there are a number of wealthy alumni on campus. A number of the students also play key roles as they deal with the death of their friend, and alternately provide red herrings for the mystery or potential victims for the masked killer.

The events of the crime are seemingly kicked off by a social media post, and while the killer doesn't communicate through social media, phone and computer screens have almost completely replaced the traditional "local news" talking head in terms of an expository device for the audience and the characters. Social media has always been something of a tricky thing to depict on film, and in horror in particular both cell phones and social media tend to be largely absent unless they are part of the murder plot. This is because between the ever-evolving nature of social media, and how easy it is to feel like it's being "done wrong," a lot of filmmakers decide to opt out rather than rolling the dice on making a version that doesn't suck.

"It was a challenge, and the way to make that challenge work is embracing it and working with it and being honest with what social media is to your characters in your world," Berardo explained during a recent interview with ComicBook. "You can't just add it in there, like at a key moment they get the text. You've got to think. Also, I made sure every single cast member, whether they were not on their phones in the script or not, had a phone in their hands. Because if you go to a store, or you go anywhere, everywhere we walk around, everybody's got the phone in their hand. I think that's something that people see, and just don't really think about."

The movie is an expansion of a short film that Berardo made, which played with similar ideas but was much more centered on the cyber bullying and social media parts of the story. Those are still present in the film, but only to the extent that they would reasonably play a role in the story, and not in a way that the killer might credibly be caught as a result.

"We avoided the killer contacting anybody with social media," Berardo added. "Like the short, I had that, but as I tried to develop that into a feature, it just got sillier and sillier. And the truth is, is you've got to always ask a question -- what would your killer do? If your killer is a real person, would your killer realistically pull their phone out? And if your killer doesn't want to get caught, then no, they're not going to do that. If your killer is going to get away with murder, that's not their move. A lot of true crime was watched too, to make sure that we did this as realistically as possible, in terms of how a killer would be able to get away with something the amount of times they have. And phone use is definitely not on that realm. If you use your phone and commit a crime, the chance of you getting caught is 10 times likelier."

Per the movie's official synopsis, in Initiation, “a murder during a university’s pledge week ignites a spree of sinister social-media messages and a race against time to stop a killer before he strikes again.”

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Berardo directed the screenplay he co-wrote with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy. The film's ensemble cast includes Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay Lavanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith, Patrick Walker, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, Kent Faulcon, Yancy Butler, and Lochlyn Munro.

Initiation will be in select theaters, and available to watch on streaming on-demand platforms, tomorrow.