Review: ‘Random Acts of Violence’ Shows Us a New Side of Jay Baruchel
By Daniel Rester
Canadian actor Jay Baruchel has tried his hand at directing before with the sports comedy Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017). But his second feature behind the cameras is a whole different beast. Random Acts of Violence is a horror picture that comes in swinging hard.
Baruchel’s film focuses on Todd (Jesse Williams), his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), his publisher Ezra (Baruchel), and his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson). Todd is a comic book writer who is known for his violent series Slasherman. The comic line started out when Todd was inspired by real-life murders he knew of.
Todd wants to wrap up Slasherman but can’t get his creative juices flowing. He goes on a road trip/press tour with Kathy and the others in order to announce the end of the comic run. While travelling, they discover that new murders are happening and that they are eerily similar to some of the actions in the comic.
Random Acts of Violence is a hard-hitting slasher film with graphic violence. There’s no playful suspense or heroic final girl here. Baruchel’s film is serious and uses Todd’s situation in order to ask questions about the morality of exploiting real-life tragedies for artistic inspiration. The director (also co-producer and co-writer) approaches the idea from different angles, including with what the killer thinks about Todd’s work.
Williams, of The Cabin in the Woods (2012) fame, does a fine job of bringing out the conflicted feelings in Todd. Baruchel is the comic relief, as expected. Brewster and Wilson unfortunately don’t get too much to do, though their characters have their own approaches to the Slasherman material. For instance, Kathy wants to research the victims’ points of view.
The Slasherman-inspired killer is a serviceable antagonist. He wears a welding mask, which must suck when he’s hunting people at night. I wondered a few times how he wasn’t tripping in the dark. He also uses a gun quite a bit, which is a bit atypical for slashers.
As a director, Baruchel does a better job with presentation than he does with character. The film looks gorgeous, courtesy of cinematographer Karim Hussain. It has lots of great lighting and the story flows smoothly. The action also comes swiftly. The gore is staged pretty intensely at times, with one group of bodies on the side of a road being particularly revolting.
Random Acts of Violence can be both disturbing and depressing, but I appreciate the territory Baruchel explores with it. He delivers the horror, but he also delivers ideas that left me thinking about the film afterward and how I view violence in real life versus entertainment. Ultimately the messages aren’t anything new, but it’s how Baruchel approaches them and how he sidesteps slasher tropes that is intriguing here.
My Grade: 6.8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)
MPA Rating: NR
Running Time: 1h 20min
USA Release Date: August 20th, 2020 (Shudder release)