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VOD Review: Random Acts of Violence

July 31, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Directed by Jay Baruchel, dipping his toes into the horror genre following his 2017 directorial debut Goon: Last of the Enforcers, Random Acts of Violence explores what happens when the work of an artist starts to inspire shocking acts of real life violence.

Todd (Jesse Williams) is a comic book writer who is struggling to come up with an ending for his series, Slasherman. The comics centre around a protagonist named Slasherman, a madman in a welding mask whom Todd based on an actual serial killer who committed a series of grisly murders in the late 1980s and early ’90s along a stretch of highway, turning his victims into twisted works of art.

At the start of the film, Todd is setting out on a road trip from Toronto to the United States with his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), business partner Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), travelling along the same stretch of highway where these murders took place. The plan is to promote the comics through a series of interviews and signings, but things take a dark turn when murders start being committed, directly inspired by the morbid drawings in Todd’s comic books.

The film, which is based on a 2010 graphic novel by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, borrows from a variety of other serial killer and slasher movies, (there are obvious allusions to Se7en and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), taking the familiar trope of bickering friends stuck on a road trip together and blossoming from there. It’s lurid and schlocky enough to work as a midnight movie, but also has a bit more going on beneath the surface to make it more interesting, asking questions about whether or not an artist should take responsibility for how people interpret their work.

While Random Acts of Violence does feel a little undercooked in parts, and I wish it had gone a bit deeper into the psychology of the characters, it’s good for a first effort. Baruchel, who co-wrote the screenplay with his writing partner Jesse Chabot, has crafted a decent and largely effective genre film, building a solid sense of atmosphere as he mixes elements of pitch black comedy, suspense and gory violence. The kills themselves are nasty and shocking, and there is a sinister bite to the film that is genuinely unsettling at times.

Karim Hussain’s cinematography has an appropriate grunginess to it, and there are also some stylish animated interludes that appear directly lifted from the pages of a comic book. The film delivers on the promise of providing sordid genre thrills, while also provocatively exploring whether violence inspires art or art inspires violence, and how the two, in some minds, are inextricably linked. It’s a high concept gambit that works well enough, and Baruchel shows promise in pulling it off.

Random Acts of Violence is being released in Canada today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, as well as in select theatres where allowed. It’s distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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