Adapted from Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti‘s one-shot graphic novel of the same name, Random Acts of Violence is a lurid story of violence both real and fictional. Throughout, the film hints at a conversation about media portrayals of violence and the extent to which the horror genre exploits real-life tragedy. It isn’t a perfect exploration of these complicated themes, but Jay Baruchel‘s movie is provocative and confrontational, and is sure to split audiences and promote healthy debate.
Todd Walker (Jesse Williams) is a comic book writer with a hit series on his hands. Now he’s struggling with a heavy case of writer’s block mixed with a sprinkle of imposter syndrome. He’s trying to think of a suitable finale for his cult classic Slasherman, a series based on a real-world string of brutal but unsettlingly artistic murders. He wants it to make a profound statement, but does Slasherman even have a profound statement to make, or was he just capitalising on misery for profit? His publishers suggest that he and his team hit the road and visit the scenes of the original crimes for inspiration. Todd soon finds himself at the mercy of the killer.
Joining Todd on his ill-fated journey is his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is doing research for a book about Slasherman’s victims. Hers is the voice of Todd’s conscience, needling away at his paper-thin assertions that he is not celebrating the killer whose legacy he has immortalised. The characterisation is largely believable and the chemistry of the leads is strong. However, there are scenes of awkward dialogue in which characters more or less explicitly state the themes of the film for the benefit of the audience.
The Giallo-inspired violence is visceral and bloody, often highly stylised with ’80s synths blaring and bathed in neon light. It’s uncomfortable viewing. The savagery of the murders is staggering, but it’s also visually appealing in a way that seems at odds with the message of the film.
This is where a lot of viewers will lose patience with the film’s occasionally moralising tone. On one hand, you could argue that the film is confronting viewers with their own morbid voyeurism. It’s making them wrestle with the question of their own complicity in promoting violence. On the other hand, you could say that the film is having its cake and eating it too.
The third act is more of a difficult sell. A flashback sequence that feels ill-timed and out of place knocks things a little off track. Also, the film’s fence-sitting on the issue of on-screen violence starts to feel less like a deliberate choice and more like indecisive wheel-spinning. However, the wobble in the final stretch serves in some ways as a reminder of how well the film has balanced its arguments up to that point.
Random Acts of Violence is by no means a perfect film. It features clunky dialogue, storytelling missteps and an inconsistent visual tone to grapple with. Nonetheless, with only a few directing credits to his name, Jay Baruchel’s decision to tackle one of the most (if not the most) controversial questions in horror cinema is commendably ambitious. That his film makes genuine contributions to the conversation is equally impressive. A low-budget offering that punches well above its weight thematically, Random Acts of Violence is sure to delight and divide audiences in equal measure.
Random Acts of Violence is currently available to stream on Shudder.