Director: Jay Baruchel
Starring:Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Niamh Wilson
Run Time: 80mins
Given director Jay Baruchel's comedic background, you would be forgiven for assuming his slasher debut is going to be an 80s riffing meta-fest. In fact, with its slick comic book opening, squelchy synth score, and the appearance of "Cabin in the Woods" Jesse Williams, that is exactly what it looks to be. Looks, however, can be deceiving, and "Random Acts of Violence" is far from being a tongue-in-cheek effort.
Instead, what we get is a brutal, grimy slasher, which sets out to critique the slasher subgenre—particularly its most problematic misogynistic elements. An admirable, even if not entirely successful, enterprise.
The movie attempts this thesis through the character of Todd. Who is the creator of the comic book "Slasherman" which is based on a series of real-life (in the movie) murders. The comic is shown to be an ultra-gory horror comic that has grown a large fanbase. But also a similarly large number of critics who say it is a work of pure exploitation. One of these critics turns out to be Todd's girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is researching a book on the same events but from the victim's perspective.
The joint interest leads the pair to take a road trip, along with Todd's publicist Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), to real-life crime scenes. So that Todd can get inspiration for the final issue of his comic, and Kathy can further research her book. Of course, this is interrupted when the killer or possibly a copycat reappears.
Throughout the film's short run time (80mins), Baruchel's put forward some valid arguments about the exploitative nature of true-crime fiction about the glorification of violence. And about the lazy dead women tropes that are recycled time and again. Also, there has been a clear effort to make the kills in the movie, not entertaining in the least. They are brutal and twisted and effectively make the point, "Should I be watching this?" They certainly are not for the faint-hearted.
However, there are a number of things that undercut the film's central debate over whether any of this has any worth. First off, the script sledgehammers home each point. Plus, most of the characters who harangue Todd are preachy to the point of sounding like they are fresh out a PMRC meeting, which is more likely to elicit eye-rolls than provoke thought in genre fans. Equally, eye-roll worthy is Todd's man-child tantrum responses every time he is challenged about his work. Plus, it rapidly begins to make less and less sense that Kathy and Todd are together; the more her true feelings about his work are revealed.
Perhaps, the biggest flaw though comes in the third act where it does seem to revel in the violence in a way that it had so studiously avoided up until that point. Furthermore, there is a plot reveal towards the end that makes little sense and drives a truck-sized plot hole through the narrative.
All of which probably makes Random Acts of Violence sound worse than it is. Because there is certainly promise here. Baruchel shows he is a thoughtful filmmaker, and he certainly proves he can stage a kill scene. Each of the early murder sequences crackles with tension and are brutally effective. He has also pulled together a solid cast as each of the central four, including himself, plays their part well. The film also impresses visually as it shot through in decidedly Giallo like reds and punctuated with some excellent animated sequences.
Overall: A short and nasty little slasher which aims high and may miss the target but has enough going for it to make it watchable.
Random Acts of Violence is now available on Shudder