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Review: Random Acts of Violence (2019)

When somebody mentions horror, Jay Baruchel is not a name that comes to mind. He’s best known for his work in comedies such as Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder and Goon, which he co-wrote. That led to his first feature as a director, Goon: Last of the Enforcers. For his second feature, Random Acts of Violence, he and Jesse Chabot have adapted Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s graphic novel of the same name. The result is a graphically violent film about a comic artist based on a graphic novel about a comic artist.

Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams, Cabin in the Woods, Jacob’s Ladder) has made his name and fortune with the comic Slasherman. Based on an actual series of killings, there’s just one problem. The killer was never caught, which leaves Todd struggling for an ending to the story. So along with his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Furious 7), publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) and Aurora (Niamh Wilson, Maps to the Stars, Saw III-VI) his assistant, he hits the road.

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Travelling through the area where the killings occurred, Todd hopes to find the proper ending for the story. Kathy is working on a book about the killings as well, though focused on the victims, not the killer. But when the killings begin again, both of them have to confront Todd’s relation to these new murders. And what, if any, responsibility he has for them.

I’ll circle back to that in a minute, but I want to talk about Random Acts of Violence simply as a slasher film first. This isn’t a watered-down I Know What You Did Last Summer type of slasher. If your reference point for horror is something like Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, you may want to think twice. The killings here are bloody and unrelentingly brutal. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Possessor, We Are Still Here) and the effects and makeup departments pull off some very effective scenes of carnage.

The basic plot about a dark secret in the protagonist’s past coming back to haunt him isn’t anything new. The connection itself is a bit different if improbable, and it’s fun watching it unfold. Random Acts of Violence does tip its hand a bit too early as to what the connection between Todd and the killer is. Even if the actor playing his younger self (Isaiah Rockcliffe, Becky) looks nothing like the grown version. But this is a slasher, not a giallo, the film hangs on its kills, not its mysteries. And it delivers them in the style of films like Maniac, (either version) and Nightmare.

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Much like Rob Grant’s Fake Blood, Random Acts of Violence wants to explore the responsibility artists have for what they depict and what it might inspire. A scene with Wade McNeil (guitarist for the band Alexis on Fire) as radio DJ explicitly brings up the alleged toxic nature of male on female violence in horror. A police officer vents at length about the misogyny she sees in Todd’s work. The message is about as subtle as the kills.

I realize that Baruchel wanted the film to provoke discussion on the subject, but by making it so heavy-handed and confrontational it gets in the way of his aim. Instead of being prompted to think about the issues he raises, I felt attacked. If these themes had been worked into the script in a more subtle way the film would have made its point a lot better. Especially given the reveal in the film’s final scenes.

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Maybe it’s my own biases showing up. I don’t find horror misogynistic in general. And I don’t think creators are to blame when they trigger mentally ill people to acts of violence. There’s no real way to prevent it. Baruchel wants horror fans to consider why they find the genre entertaining. Maybe he should look at why he finds the real-life violence of hockey goons, excuse me, enforcers, something to celebrate and laugh about.

Divorced from its preaching, Random Acts of Violence is a solid horror film with a truly nightmarish climax. But the film’s confrontational nature took me out of the film repeatedly. I still enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I should have.

Elevation Pictures will release Random Acts of Violence in theatres and on-demand in Canada on July 31st. It will debut on Shudder and Shudder UK on August 20th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for release dates elsewhere when they’re announced.

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