Random Acts of Violence
Review by Craig Draheim
Director: Jay Baruchel
Writer: Jay Baruchel, Jesse Chabot
Starring: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Niamh Wilson, Jay Baruchel
First, I have to say that while it may be where I grew up or my love of hockey, but the Goon films have a special place in my heart. And it’s not because Baruchel co-wrote both of those films and directed the second one. I say this because he has a wonderful ability to inject a sympathetic insight into genres commonly regarded as “mindless entertainment;” genres said to be based around funny gags, pot jokes, titillation, or other spectacles that aren’t typically seen as art. Random Acts of Violence actually opens with the protagonist, Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams), having an mental crisis around this dilemma and finding that balance of creating the perfect ending to a successful horror comic that still appeases fans, while proving its worth as a piece of art to critics.
The story follows Todd, his wife Kathy (Brewster), publisher/best friend (Baruchel), and assistant (Wilson) as they travel to New York Comic Con through the same rural patch of New York State that inspired his successful comic, Slasherman. However, the road trip that was meant to inspire the comic’s ending and Kathy’s book, turns to terror as someone begins copying the grotesque murders from the comic. Is it a copycat or the original killer that the comic was based on?
In the way Red State was for Kevin Smith, this film has the markings of Baruchel taking that creative leap into the uncomfortable. There is no intended humor, except for characters joking with each other casually as friends do, but once the terror starts, any evidence of that stops. And I thought it worked wonders at showcasing Baruchel’s range and depth as a storyteller. While many would classify it as a slasher, it appropriately enters that realm of modernist horror that comments on and identifies our reaction to violence. Everyone knows Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but how many of us can name their victims? Random Acts of Violence makes us aware of this issue, that people being killed are not meant to be fodder for our entertainment, and shown through the imagery of letting us know who the victims are and not providing a quick, campy death. As well as being told through many instances within the dialogue that doesn’t feel too on-the-nose or forced because it makes sense within the scene, such as Kathy stating, “Everybody talks about Slasherman, everybody talks about the murders, but nobody ever talks about the victims and those are the people that matter.”
The movie is technically sound, with enough homage elements to appease fans of the genre, but also making it its own. Also, it is some of the most grounded and mature acting I have seen from Williams, Brewster, and Baruchel. As with anything there are little stylized choices here and there that didn’t work for me, like how certain supporting characters interact with the primary cast. Then there’s certain directions the story went that I felt did not have as big of an impact as it could. Really all my criticism is based upon my own personal tastes than it is the movie’s execution, so I can’t really fault them for that.
Maybe it’s the time of day, my love of Goon, or even my desire for more slasher/serial killer films that remember by valuing life, that makes for a more impactful story. I found it to be a powerful piece that is now in the running for my favorite horror of 2020 list. If my mood changes tomorrow or my views are in the minority, whatever comes out of it has me craving what Baruchel will give us next.
4 out of 5