Based on the imagery I had seen bits and pieces of prior, I was looking forward to Random Acts of Violence. The grisly yet beautiful, and morbid aesthetic brought to mind the Hannibal series’ inexplicable way of making brutality a classy fashion statement. I did not know a lot about the film otherwise though. I did not even know it had been officially released ’til, in a last ditch effort to find something to watch that wasn’t sugary mainstream entertainment or shoe-string slasher flicks trying to harken back to the days of yesteryear, I started my quarterly subscription to Shudder and discovered it.
Directed by Jay Baruchel, otherwise known for his voice-acting efforts on the wonderful Dreamworks animated series How to Train your Dragon and This is the End (for instance), the film is based on the comic of the same name by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. The film was written by Baruchel and Jesse Chabot respectively, and its cast includes Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, and Baruchel.
The film premiered at the 2019 Fantastic Fest and was released in Canada by Elevation Pictures the year after on July 31st, whereas its Stateside did not come until August 2020 by Shudder, hence why I have only now gotten my hands on it. Random Acts of Violence received a polarizing reaction from critics, who were mixed in terms of the violent visuals, messages, and special effects that were featured.
Random Acts of Violence is categorized as a slasher film, and, although I think that is the right call, I would also mention that it does not play by a lot of the conventions of a slasher film. This is not a cat-and-mouse scenario that sees its antagonist hunting down the characters in the same way, per se. Our antagonist is absolutely hunting them down, but I think the film concerns itself elsewhere more than with our antagonist chasing after people and ‘slashing’ them down. He is more like a serial killer run amuck, and, for a lot of his victims, there is not much of a chase to speak of.
With clearly a lot on its mind – Random Acts of Violence follows the writer of a popular comic-book series called Slasherman, known for its grisly imagery and for being based on an actual serial killer. The comic-book’s violence has been met with no shortage of criticism, touting it as offensive and disrespectful to the victims of the actual murderer, romanticizing and immortalizing both the man responsible and the tragic fates they met. Everything comes to a dramatic shift as the writer and his colleagues soon find an individual, presumably the actual serial killer out from hiding, is back at it again, reenacting fictional murders that were depicted in his comic-book.
There is a lot to unpack about the subject itself and I believe it is topical and relevant to say the least. Readers Digested writes movie reviews and editorials, and this and that, but, first and foremost, our objective is to create content of, usually, a dark subject matter. Although I do not think we will ever write a novel about Jeffrey Dahmer or Ed Gein, for instance, nor would any of us outright reenact the instances that brought about a victims’ demise, I can already tell you that my stories have been influenced in some way by the research I have done in true-crime, especially in the novel I am working on at the moment.
It is nearly an apples-to-apples comparison, in retrospect. I have purposely disguised and redecorated my storytelling to hide any semblance of real life events, boiling it down to the bare essentials, and I did that as I believed it an ethical decision. However, does that suggest every film about serial killers is inherently unethical? Can it be accomplished respectfully and without being gratuitous, or is the very act itself an act of gratuity? Whichever it is, it is clear that Slasherman’s gory depictions and cruelty were unlikely to have taken a lot of the victims’ families into consideration.
The film received both criticism and praise for its commentary, which I had read some criticisms suggesting hypocrisy on the film’s account for its own gratuity. But, in a rebuttal, I would argue that the commentary itself does not make a declarative statement about gratuity, but, rather, offers its perspective on the exploitation of real tragedy (shielded by the fact it is fiction).
The performances are in capable hands, with Jessie Williams doing well in his role as the opinionated, defensive writer of the Slasherman series, defending himself, but occasionally faltering under the weight of his own self-doubt.
The incorporation of a comic-book aesthetic is appeasing and appreciated. In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed the colorful cinematography and vibrant color scheme, which is something I have come to associate a lot with Shudder films, such as Mandy. Although, I will admit the flickering lights and stuttering whites can be a little overbearing in some instances.
In general, I appreciate it when a film does not merely have camerawork as a way to capture actions and events, but as a way to elevate the overall experience tonally and thematically, this film has a sense of style and I am here for it.
Although certain elements and aspects of Acts of Violence are familiar to other genres of horror, I found they were a welcome addition to the slasher subgenre, offering a refreshing approach to what filmmakers, particularly new filmmakers (this is Jay’s Sophomore effort, after Goons 2), often use as grounds to do it fast and do it cheap.
In an interview, the director said he wanted a film that would “fuck people up” and leave them “thinking about a bunch of shit”. If I am honest, after all I have seen, I am mostly too desensitized to react (fucked up beyond reprieve, I suppose), and I found it more intriguing and visually morbid than scary, but I do think the film leaves you with something to think about.
For that reason, and because I genuinely just enjoyed the film, I recommend checking out Random Acts of Violence when you have the chance to.