Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Random Acts of Violence (2019) dir. Jay Baruchel

Now available on Shudder


I’m no expert in horror films, but I suppose the funny thing about the title Random Acts of Violence is that most movies of its kind are fanatical participators in random acts of violence. What constitutes as random might differ among thinking minds, and if you’re asking this question in MySpace-era 2005, punctuated with “rawr.” At one end of the spectrum is the “100% guarantee to catch these hands” zone, like walking into the Blair Witch’s side of the woods no matter who the fuck you think you are. Then, somewhere along the scale is the genetic passings of King Paimon’s spirit or being able to mentally travel to The Further. And then, at the other end where spontaneity resides is probably Dollface’s haunting “because you were home”.

In my head, there are two different truths in this world that we can choose to believe in. There is one where the world falls intentionally in place like puzzle pieces. Then, there is another where those pieces instead are ricocheting inside some invisible jar until they collapse in an assortment that someone will stumble upon — a kind of mayhem that befalls a lot of slasher flick victims. In Random Acts of Violence, there is a third quasi-truth, in which one poses as the other.

Jesse Williams is Todd, a comic book writer at the last stretch of writer’s block to end his Slasherman series. Borrowing from actual unsolved murders that occurred along I-90 in the late ’80s, the comic has received vitriol for its “tired brand of senseless violence.” This public sentiment seems to affect his ability to properly conclude the series — that and the fact that his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster) is concurrently writing a book about the real Slasherman’s victims, causing the same tension that’d occur if a still-married Kathryn Bigelow released a documentary about the importance of icebergs during Titanic‘s awards circuit.

He goes on a road trip to the New York Comic Con with Kathy, his manager, Ezra (Jay Baruchel, also director), and his artist, Aurora (Niamh Wilson), using the same route that the murders occurred. They stop at a gas station (not the first time where Williams has been accosted at such a place!) and leave some of his comic book issues at an empty magazine rack for fun, I guess. Unfortunately, the graphic nature of the comic sparks an interest of a passerby, followed by sadistic inspiration . When Todd realizes what’s happening, the end has already been written in stone.

The motif of providing meaning to meaningless killings by showing meaningless killings is a bold and difficult maneuver. Is it even possible to create a work that subverts the trope? Though I truly enjoyed Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, I struggle with movies of the rape-and-revenge persuasion, and wonder if it’s even possible to off-road the paved way. Wasn’t the revenge portion a kind of subversion for helpless victims who were cast aside for male heroes’ pain? Baruchel’s efforts in rationalizing violence could have paid off if the murders felt more like a point of progress (for whom is another question) than a countdown.

The film is too short to take in any single persona, which all suffer under superficial blemishes. We know that each of the four individually has a characteristic that makes them them, but Todd is made as the only person that matters, and that’s where the film quickly loses its hand. Even through its invigorating neon that sharpens the visuals as a graphic novel colorist would, the pacing is so quick that the colors only seem to emerge when police sirens arrive. Random Acts is stuck in that phase of ricocheting where instead of forceful hits, it flails in the guise of purpose.

That being said, I think there is something to be said about having fun with a “tired brand.” I was hoping that it’d share the same levity as Green Room, a piece that allows compassion for the characters as well as seeing some gnarly injuries. The heavier parts of Random Acts can argue why it wasn’t able to go in that way, but honestly, it can still be enjoyable to watch. Tarantino says it best.

Random Acts of Violence
dir. Jay Baruchel
80 mins

Now streaming on Shudder!

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