Random Acts of Violence, 2019.
Written and directed by Jay Baruchel.
Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Niamh Wilson, and Jay Baruchel.
A pair of comic book writers begin to notice scary similarities between the character they created and horrific real-life events.
Great art often comes from great pain, but how many of us have ever thought long and hard about our own complicity in the horror genre’s fetishisation of misery? We might occasionally think to ourselves, “Who makes this shit up?” while watching a Saw movie, but this second feature from writer-director-star Jay Baruchel (Goon: Last of the Enforcers) dares to engage with the question in a more spiky, heightened way.
Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) and his publisher pal Ezra (Jay Baruchel) are responsible for creating a comic book based on the famed serial killer Slasherman, but when they return to the town the killer terrorised two decades earlier for a press tour, the killings soon enough start all over again. Worse still, the murders bear a damning resemblance to the creatively grisly kills depicted in Todd’s comics.
If in a broad sense Baruchel’s film passes comment on the toils of the creative process – and is therefore surely a personal project for the filmmaker, which he’s been attached to for almost a decade – it’s far more pointedly a dark satire of artistes exploiting real tragedy, and the “responsibility” these people may or may not owe to the actual horrors.
The great irony is that the film is entirely concerned with the idea of owning one’s story, albeit from the curious perspective of the serial killer rather than the victim. Slasherman evidently isn’t too fond of being mythologised by Todd, and stages his protest in outrageously violent fashion. While Baruchel stops short of outright condemning entertainment based on traumatic true events, there’s a clear through-line which casts a judgmental eye on cynical exploitation, and the disconcertingly ghoulish fandoms which often emerge in its wake.
It’d be easy for that tone to seem hypocritical in a movie which is itself packed with over-the-top “gorn,” but Baruchel impressively tows the line well, in large part because he doesn’t over-commit to any single angle; viewers are largely left to ascribe meaning themselves. Perhaps even more surprising is the tonal compromise achieved between farce and genuine horror; the many moments of wince-inducing violence – particularly one involving an especially prolonged stabbing – are matched by some delicious dark comedy.
Even for those who find the tonal switch-footing troublesome, the film is held together at all times by its solid cast. Williams and Baruchel’s natural chemistry makes for some fun banter, though in a surprising turn it’s Jordana Brewster who periodically steals the movie as Todd’s girlfriend Kathy, who is herself writing a book on the Slasherman killings from the victims’ POV. Brewster gets to sink her teeth into a meaty role, and absolutely nails a challenging, pivotal third-act scene when the proverbial truly hits the fan.
While rough around the edges technically, Baruchel’s film boasts an appealingly scuzzy aesthetic more often than not. Yes, the comic book-style opening is composed of garishly awful CGI animation, but a VHS-inspired titles sequence fares much better, aided by a rollicking synth score featured throughout.
It’d be easy for a film like this to come across as obnoxious or pandering with its in-your-face critiques of the very genre it is itself a part of, and while it does indeed fall off a tad in the final stretch, for the most part it delivers a brutal – and brutally funny – diversionary effort. And at just 80 minutes in length, there’s barely any fat on these bones whatsoever.
Jay Baruchel’s new film takes a twisted plunge down the meta-horror rabbit hole, asking provocative questions about the relationship between cinema and violence, yet crucially never getting too cute with its self-aware premise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.