“Real art is born of truth. Everything else is a random act of violence.” -Jesse Williams, Random Acts of Violence
While the genre is most well-known for its scares or graphic depictions of violence, the very best horror films have something to say.
Thankfully, while it’s happy to serve the fans that it wishes to reach, Random Acts of Violence leans towards the latter. With a smart script and engaging premise, there’s a compelling honesty to Violence that makes it worth a watch.
Directed by Jay Baruchel (Goon), Random Acts of Violence tells the story of Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams), the creator of Slasherman, an R-rated comic book series based on a real-life serial killer. Having decided to end his wildly successful series, he ventures out onto a press tour with his publicist, Ezra (Jay Baruchel) and his girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster) in order to promote the final issue. Along the way, they visit the town where Slasherman caused so much harm in the past and, inadvertently, awaken the same murderous beast that Todd’s story mythologizes.
Based on the 2010 comic of the same name, Random Acts of Violence is a fascinating mash-up between horror films and the visuals of graphic novels. With his ever-improving skill behind the camera, Baruchel (who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Jesse Chabot) integrates a darkened colour palette for the primary narrative scenes with the bold visual artistry of the comic itself. By moving between worlds, Baruchel visually reinforces their direct influence one has on the other and blurs the lines between reality and what’s on the page. Tightly compacted into an intense 81 minutes, Violence moves along quickly and effectively, never leaving the audience much chance to catch their breath. Sharply written, the film is well of the tropes of the genre and lovingly honours and subverts them. In the process, the film carves out its own unique voice while not forgetting the kills and chills.
Though, what’s most interesting about the film is that, in the midst of the Violence, there lies the beating heart of a conscience.
While Random Acts of Violence eventually descends into the graphic bloodshed that the title suggests, there is a method to Baruchel’s madness that is far from random. While some horror films seem intent on pushing the envelope with graphic visuals simply to titillate the audience, Violence provides compelling conversations that underscore the bloodbath and challenge the meaning of the murders. For instance, even as the body count rises, Todd continues to defend his decision to portray graphic imagery due to his artistic intent. Nevertheless, he still feels a certain culpability that weighs on his soul. Does his artistic expression bear some responsibility to this string of murders? Or is it just another delusional person looking for an excuse to serve as their inspiration?
Baruchel uses the graphic nature of the film to disturb, rather than excite. While the film never places blame on the audience for enjoying the blood and gore, neither does it allow them to completely enjoy watching it either. By slowing down the violence and forcing the audience to see much of the horror, the film refuses to allow the audience to celebrate the carnage by reminding them that these people matter. In other words, despite its graphic content, Baruchel’s film pauses to ask what it means for us to mythologize the villains of our culture rather than give voice to the victims that they leave in their wake.
Though we know little about them, these victims still matter.
As a result of its self-awareness, Random Acts of Violence both serves and challenges the horror genre. By offering chilling visuals and scares, the film honours the great thrillers that came before and ‘gives the people what they want’. However, in a culture that elevates the mystique of the murderer, Violence does not allow the viewer to get too comfortable in their enjoyment of the bloodshed by reminding them of the true value of human life.
And it’s this truth that prevents the film from simply becoming more random acts of violence.
For full audio of our roundtable conversation with writer/director Jay Baruchel, click here.
Random Acts of Violence premieres on VOD on July 31st, 2020.