Isabella Gomez wanted to change things up given her background in television sitcoms. Ironically one such opportunity emerged when one of her former co-stars on Netflix/Pop TV reboot of One Day at a Time in Froy Gutierrez talked about a horror film he's involved with that ended up being Saban Films' Initiation. I spoke with the actress about the change of scenery, its challenges, and her love for the horror genre. "I ran into Froy at an audition and we had worked together on [the show]," Gomez recalled. "He was like, 'Hey, I'm making this film. You would be perfect for this character. Let me connect you with the director.' Anytime an actor friend of mine recommends anything, I am intrigued. I started reading the script and could not put it down. I blew right through it. I was so interested in getting to know what was going to happen, especially with that twist at the end, I was so impressed with the writing and the way that it all came together. I was really excited about it and really liked that it was a horror film that had something to say."
How Initiation Differs from Gomez's Past Projects
Initiation follows college students during pledge week where 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. Gomez admitted doing the film provided the break she needed. "It's a totally a different feel," the One Day at a Time star said. "I've been doing sitcoms for about half a decade now. It was definitely the opposite end of the spectrum. In a lot of ways, I felt like coming home because I've always been the kind of actor that was more into drama and diving into emotions like that. I was always intrigued by how they made horror films, how they did the stunts, the blood, and all of that. In a way, it felt like home and I was thrilled to do it. I was a little nervous, but the team that got assembled and the one in production were so wonderful and helpful. They're for all of us and really guided us through. A lot of it we got to shoot kind of in order a little bit, which helps a lot with the art and all that. I had such a blast."
The star of the upcoming Head of the Class HBO Max reboot credits director John Berardo for making the transition as smooth as possible. "John is the loveliest," she said. "Somehow, he manages. We shot this movie in two weeks, which is insane. He manages to get everything done and also makes sure that we all feel like we have time, collaborate. and go again if we need to. He was just so attentive to us. I always tell the story. I had acute bronchitis during filming. He was so attentive, lovely, and flexible with me. He is the best director." Having a quality script from Berardo, Brian Frager, and co-star Lindsay LaVanchy certainty didn't hurt either. "I think the most difficult part was recreating the emotions," Gomez said. "Towards the very end of the film, there's a big twist that affects every character. I was worried about if I would be able to recreate the intensity of the emotion needed. Luckily, when you have a script that's well written and when you have a cast that is in it with you, it is very easy to slip into that world. I don't think we had to do too many takes. It was a little tough and with a little scary, but it ended up looking really great."
Gomez grew up on some of the 2000's most memorable horror films. "I was a big Paranormal Activity (2007) kind of gal or like The Grudge (2004), The Ring (2002), those kinds of things," she said. "I was really into I've kind of fallen off of it because I get so scared. A year and a half ago, I bit the bullet and watched (Netflix's) The Haunting of Hill House (2018), which I thought was brilliantly done." As conscious people are about their own perception, the actress noted the film's integration of social media and how it can become a double-edged sword. "I think you have to be really careful with [social media], just like with anything that's too topical and current," Gomez continued. "It can feel like people just trying to be relatable instead of an actual organic part of the story. With the film's focus on social media, I was definitely making sure that it felt authentic to me and also that the people involved, the people writing it, the producers, and everybody were willing and open to accept criticism and accept collaboration. At the end of the day, all of us in the cast that made it are much closer to the social media world than they are. It was lovely that they were so open and willing to hear us out. There wasn't a lot we had to change, because they actually really had a great grasp. I think that was one of the things that I liked about the movie is it used social media in a way that didn't feel like it was beating it over your head or felt like, 'Oh, right, we're doing social media because it's cool and current.'"
Initiation, which also stars Lochlyn Munro, Yancy Butler, Jon Huertas, Gattlin Griffin, Patrick Walker, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, and Kent Faulcon, comes to theaters, on-demand and digital on May 7th.