For Lindsay LaVanchy, Initiation became a passion project as a horror fan growing up. Inspired in part by Wes Craven's 1996 slasher classic Scream, the actress co-wrote the film with director John Berardo and Brian Frager for Saban Films. I spoke to the star, who plays Ellery Scott, about how the project came together, how social media's influence on the film, and her horror fandom. The story follows a college where a star-athlete is murdered, kicking off a spree of social media slayings that force students to uncover the truth behind the school's hidden secrets and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point.
"John and I went to UCLA together, and he went on to USC Film School, and a short was first out of that class in 2013," LaVanchy said. "It went through several different drafts, and eventually, I came on to work as an actor on the project with him and Brian. That was about two years before we filmed and we kind of ran the gamut of all different ideas with a socially conscious awareness of wanting to have that be the backbone and have themes that fall into them." While the idea of having social media engrained in horror is not new, LaVanchy observes the platforms' own stigma. "I think social media can be terrifying," she said. "People feel way more comfortable saying what they think. It introduces so many people like myself to the experiences of others on different parts of this planet. It's so terrifying with things like mass shootings or altercations between police and the public are put online for all of us to watch. It's kind of like a short-form film. We realize how kids have been dealing with 15 years of online bullying and able to incorporate that into the film. Everyone's on their phones all the time. I feel everyone is on social media except for maybe my grandmother. We couldn't really leave [the culture] out of the film either because then it wouldn't feel real. I think we wanted it to feel authentic and rooted in reality."
LaVanchy credits the horror genre's ability to adapt to the times and flexibility to blend in other settings. "I'm a fan of always progress and discovering new corners of the universe with any genre and any person," she said. "It's natural for evolution, and horror will continue to evolve even past what it is today. It is such an incredible genre to talk about and display in real life. I know we can get into more grandiose horror, and that emerges on into sci-fi. It is such a beautiful playing ground to explore the darkness versus the light, the evil versus the pure. Every day, it's going to continue to evolve, and I'm glad that it does. I love seeing new work come out, but I also love the classics." The actress's fondest horror memory was her first exposure to the Craven franchise. "John was obsessed with for his entire life since he first even heard about the film, and I felt similarly," LaVanchy said. "I was too young to see it in theaters. I remember renting Scream from Blockbuster. You know that store, Blockbuster? It's not around anymore for all of those young children, and they don't know what that is. I remember renting it, watching it, and it totally changed my idea of the horror genre." Her horror fandom expands from the supernatural to mysteries and helped shaped her contribution to Initiation.
Initiation Star Lindsay LaVanchy's Horror Inspirations
"I had grown up loving vampire films," LaVanchy said. "I had loved The Birds by [Alfred] Hitchcock and Rear Window. Blair Witch Project felt so real. I was just obsessed with the genre after that. I hate to admit this, but I had never seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While we were writing it, John put it on for me, and I was like, 'This is so amazing! It was incredible!' It just showed you can have a simple through-line and just be totally captivated the entire time. What was of utmost importance was that the world. You got sucked in, and everything feels so real. You believe these actors in these roles and the set design. You could feel it. It was visceral. I would say that really left a mark on me while we were writing into that screen was huge."
While LaVanchy's appeared on TV and film before, including the short-lived TV adaptation of Scream, nothing compares to the experience of working on Initiation. "I've been on procedurals, and I died on TV before, but I had never been able to do a really solid through-line of a character in horror," she said. "That experience was so unbelievably fun. The whole cast and crew were awesome. Getting to shoot in Louisiana and really playing into the magic that state really has just in a blade of grass, the dirt, and the silence is in the dead of nowhere is utterly terrifying. All you hear crickets, and I think filming that and also being a trained stage actor amplified the ride, genre, and the world for me. It really made me pay attention to silence and moments being so crucial as an actor working on those or displaying those scenes that the audience can really take its time and get into the moments with you, the fear with you."
Initiation, which also stars Froy Gutierrez, Lochlyn Munro, Yancy Butler, Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Gattlin Griffin, Patrick Walker, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, and Kent Faulcon, comes to theaters, on-demand and digital on May 7.