Random Acts of Violence, 2019.
Directed by Jay Baruchel.
Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel and Niamh Wilson.
A comic book writer whose gory stories are inspired by a real serial killer must face the morality of his work when a copycat murderer begins to strike.
We’re probably all a little bit too obsessed with true crime stories. Just a few months ago, in the early days of lockdown, we all spent a week or so working our way through Tiger King, with the likes of Making a Murderer, Evil Genius and Don’t Fuck With Cats proving to be effective binge-watches before that. So with that in mind, now is a very smart time to take a long, hard look at ourselves and wonder whether our morbid curiosity around the dark side of humanity might be a little troubling. That’s the core of Jay Baruchel’s new horror movie Random Acts of Violence, debuting this week on streaming service Shudder.
Todd (Jesse Williams) is a comic book writer, struggling to come up with an ending for his acclaimed and beloved Slasherman series – a fictional serial killer tale loosely inspired by some real American murders. He embarks on a press tour to promote the finale along with his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is writing a non-fiction book about the real killings. Todd’s publicist (Baruchel) and assistant (Niamh Wilson) are also along for the ride. After a tetchy radio interview in which Todd is accused of promoting “a dangerous culture that lionises male violence”, a copycat killer begins to commit brutal crimes inspired by the grotesque pages of his work.
It would be easy for Random Acts of Violence to wallow in the darkness of its premise and deliver another of the washed-out serial killer tales audiences will have become so accustomed to seeing. But Baruchel does something very different. This film opens with the festive sound of sleigh bells and is set in a world often lit by the bizarre glow of neon lights. It’s a movie that feels bold and lurid, despite its admirable restraint in terms of the gore-soaked set pieces that afflict the more desperate examples of the horror genre.
There are a lot of ideas at play in the movie, penned by Baruchel with regular collaborator Jesse Chabot, but that occasionally leaves it lacking in depth. It’s a brisk and sharp tale, running short of 90 minutes, and so there’s little time for any of the intriguing themes to be fully examined. The necessary machinations of the genre obscure the intelligence of the concept and, by the end, the serial killer shtick has obfuscated the potent critique of the way we consume violent stories and spotlight the villains behind them ahead of their victims.
Baruchel helms the story with considerable style and there’s an energy that keeps the thing moving when it could easily have become a looser, more freewheeling road movie with far less intensity. In his hands, it maintains a nasty edge and propulsive momentum as it moves through its neon-hued world. It’s a touch unfocused, though, and leaves little opportunity for the talented cast to add any depth to their characters, which feel like mere archetypes through which to tell the story and investigate humanity’s adoration for the macabre.
Random Acts of Violence is a definite step up from Baruchel’s previous directorial outing – the very disappointing sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers – and showcases a filmmaker with a clear love for the genre in which he’s working. It seems horror was always Baruchel’s true home, rather than the stoner comedies that have dominated his acting career, and he has assembled a strong, sinister calling card that should set him in good stead for plenty more scares to come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.