Filmmakers known for comedy successfully making their way into the horror genre has become a trend recently. Jordan Peele is–after only two features–the name in mainstream horror. Danny McBride and David Gordon Green shattered the box office when they brought Michael Myers back to the big screen. Now, Jay Baruchel (Goon: The Last of the Enforcers) has stepped into the horror arena with his second feature film, Random Acts of Violence.
Random Acts of Violence centers around Todd (Jesse Williams), a comic book writer who is suffering from writer’s block. He decides to roadtrip with his girlfriend (Jordana Brewster), publisher (Jay Baruchel), and assistant (Niamh Wilson) for some inspiration. Along the way, a series of murders inspired by his comic plague him. As the body count mounts, Todd and his friends begin to question the influence of his violent art.
“Is any of this getting your creative juices flowing?”
If one thing can be said about Random Acts of Violence, it’s that Baruchel has a lot on his mind. The film asks a lot of questions about how the public interacts with violence in art and media. Funnily enough, it does so while also being a prime example of extremely violent entertainment. This is a brutal film, with plenty of gruesome practical effects to satisfy gorehounds. However, it also gives them something to grapple with. Because Todd’s comic is based on a real serial killer, he takes a lot of heat for glorifying violence. People who were close with the victims of his comic protagonist’s real life counterpart are understandably upset. When does art cross the line into pure exploitation?
To make things even more interesting, Todd’s girlfriend, Kathy, is researching and writing a book about the I-90 Killer’s victims. This causes tension between the two, particularly as Todd is taking more criticism. Kathy is still exploiting these murderers, but using a faux empathetic approach in order to do so. Brewster and Williams have some of the best dialogue in the film. Their conversations are where the film is at its most thematically rich.
Baruchel’s direction is assured, stylish, and shows a lot of love for the genre. He washes his frames out in red, green, or orange light, making each one seem like a comic book panel. Christmas lights also play a part in the set design, finding a nice juxtaposition with the dark, heavy mood. The Christmas-meets-grindhouse aesthetic gives the film a distinct flavor. While Random Acts of Violence isn’t a Christmas-horror movie, it can feel like one at times. It utilizes that uneasy mashup to better effect than most of the recent entries in the subgenre have.
“Todd drew this.”
If you see Baruchel’s name attached to this and expect a horror-comedy, you’re going to be in for a shock. The eighty-minute runtime is completely devoid of humor. It’s a nasty film with a mean streak, wearing influences like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Town That Dreaded Sundown on its sleeve. Baruchel does show some restraint as a filmmaker; there’s nothing as over the top as a Rob Zombie flick. That said, the practical effects on display are gruesome, and the final fifteen minutes of the film are stomach turning.
Unfortunately, the final fifteen minutes also muddles the themes. The twist, while well executed, overshadows the larger conversation the film’s first two acts set up. At other times, Random Acts of Violence feels like a run of the mill slasher. A lot of the kills rely on coincidence, and many of the characters make poor choices in the face of danger. It’s a grindhouse movie designed to make you think about grindhouse movies. While it’s definitely rough around the edges, it’s mostly successful.
Random Acts of Violence is dark, mean, and gruesome, the type of movie that will leave you feeling gross in the best way. Baruchel refuses to fetishize the violence in his film, particularly the violence against women. The kills are brutal and realistic, and work to drive the themes home. Long after the credits rolled, I was thinking about the questions it posed. The film might not have any satisfying answers to those questions, but it’s rare that a slasher movie is as thought-provoking as the one Baruchel has assembled. Here’s to hoping he returns to the horror genre soon.
Overall Score 3.5/5
Random Acts of Violence begins streaming on Shudder August, 20th.