Five strangers are taken hostage and forced to fight to the death as a form of initiation into a bizarre, violent brotherhood.
Dan Benamor, Oren Benamor
Adam Ryan Rennie as Simon
Dan Horton as Marok
David Terrell as Staff Sergeant Raynor
Oren Benamor’s unorthodox expedition into survival horror, Initiation, succeeds as an overachiever of a flick that refuses to be the amateur effort one might expect when examining production values, sets and performers. There isn’t much of any money in the project, the bulk of the film takes place in one single location and you won’t recognize many, if any of the primary players in the picture. All in all, the cards are stacked against this one… but it doesn’t matter.
Initiation tells the tale of a handful of random strangers who are abducted and imprisoned by some organized criminal group – that may or may not have satanic ties – who perform a horrific initiation. See, if these hooligans want to be a part of this squad, they’ve got to fight – bare-fisted – with one of the prisoners. If the bad guy wins and murders the abducted, he’s in the group. If he loses and dies, the prisoner who was victorious in battle is handed their keys and allowed to walk to freedom (yeah, we believe that as much as the film’s victims).
Of course, it essentially comes down to one strong-willed heroic type and the mincing and infuriated leader of the gang, who watched his brother killed while vying for a place in the cult… or whatever the hell it is.
Is the final prisoner savvy, skilled and resilient enough to emerge with his arm raised? Will his background as a marine pay dividends?
Speaking of that military background, it’s actually a rather pronounced aspect of the story, and it makes for a fine subplot that keeps the narrative moving along smoothly. The death matches in the film require some separation, or this all likely becomes a hazy mess of hodgepodge sleaze. That subplot – completely focused on the heroic Simon during his days as a marine in the making – prevents things from becoming stale and repetitive. Including the subplot was an excellent maneuver on the part of director/co-writer Oren Benamor and professional partner in crime here, Dan Benamor. These two knew to avoid a pure exploitative route, and they obviously had intentions to tell a story that rises above the cheapness of torture porn. They’ve created a fine little balance here.
Although extremely limited from a fiscal position, Initiation is successful, for the most part. There are a few minor details that I wouldn’t have minded seeing adjusted, but those aren’t real noteworthy points. And, let’s be real, what doesn’t work for me could very well work for you. Initiation isn’t going to give you any mind blowing material you’ve never seen. You’re not going to run down the block in your tighty whities screaming ‘Initiation!’ (Unless you live in Chico, but that’s a different story for a different day) like a mad man. You won’t even feel profoundly moved by the flick. But what you will do is respect it for what it is, an independent film with a ton of limitations that fail in deterring a couple promising filmmakers from crafting a respectable piece of work.
Initiation isn’t going to land on any Best of 2016 lists, but I can comfortably give it an honest recommendation. There are a few tense moments that please, and a few rough around the edges but spirited performances. The finale is solid. Take a chance on this one, as worst case scenario sees you tossing 90 minutes and a few bucks down the toilet. But you’re probably not likely to feel cheated by Initiation.