Written by: Matt Patti | August 19th, 2020
Random Acts of Violence (Jay Baruchel, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
It’s a question that has been raised for quite some time since the beginning of electronic media: do violent movies, TV shows, games, comics, or other media inspire violent activity from consumers of that media? What responsibility does the creator of this content have when fans commit crimes in a manner similar to the characters in their work? The issue has spawned many heated debates, and no matter which side you fall on, it is an interesting topic to consider. Random Acts of Violence explores this idea in an extreme, terrifying way, while also being an effective horror film in its own right.
Todd (Jesse Williams, The Cabin in the Woods) is a successful comic book writer, responsible for the popular “Slasherman” comic, in which a masked man goes around killing people and creating “art” with their dead bodies. Todd’s comic is inspired by a real-life killer who killed a bunch of women in the 1980s along a busy highway. “Slasherman” is nearing its end, and Todd admits he doesn’t know how he wants to write the conclusion, stating that this character deserves a special finale. Todd and his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster, Furious 7) embark on a road trip from Toronto to New York with Todd’s friend and an assistant in order to attend a convention. Along the way, they find a trail of many murders that seem to reflect what happens in Todd’s comics. Soon, the crazed-fan-turned-killer closes in on the group, and Todd is forced to contemplate if he is responsible for the danger he has put his wife, his friends, and himself in.
The film’s well-rounded cast give great, yet subtle, performances, especially Williams as Todd. Throughout most of the film, Todd is unsure what to think about what he sees and not able to accept the consequences of his work, denying there is any link. At times, he seems emotionless, much like a creator of twisted media might be when confronted over controversy. However, his character grows during the film and he soon realizes that he might have had a bigger part in creating the crazed killer than he previously realized. The film, especially the ending, explores his inner moral dilemma in an uncanny, disturbing way that is quite shocking.
The idea of such a quandary, while the centerpiece of the film, is not the only goods that it has to offer. The film offers many legitimately scary, tension-filled moments. There is a surplus of gore and disturbing imagery in the film, but it is all realistic, making it very unnerving. There are some gruesome visuals, specifically with the “art” the killer makes with the victims’ bodies. So, while it may make some viewers’ stomachs churn, I actually think it makes the film scarier, which can’t be said about many overly gory films.
The intriguing moral dilemma and suspenseful scenes ultimately keep Random Acts of Violence afloat, but it does have many flaws that threaten to pull it down. It has an annoying, overly vibrant, long title sequence at the beginning of the film that could affect people with epilepsy and does not fit the mood of the film at all. There are many just plain stupid characters in the film that get killed in the easiest of ways because of a lack of awareness and logic. The soundtrack is overused and obnoxious at times, there might be a tad too much gore, and there are too many flashback scenes sprinkled throughout the film. Finally, while the concept of a creator’s guilt is the film’s central theme, I feel like it could be explored even more, and more deeply.
Even with a long list of flaws, Random Acts of Violence is still buoyed by its actors’ performances, genuinely scary scenes, and the questions it presents to the audience. The conclusion of this film has one of the more disturbing twists/reveals that I’ve seen in a while, and it supports the film’s slightly underused central theme in a very interesting way. As a seasoned horror veteran, I’m not typically affected much by slasher films, which seldom leave me thinking about them long after the credits roll. However, Random Acts of Violence manages to accomplish this, as it burns frightening images into the viewer’s head and makes them contemplate the effect that horror media can have on the real world.
[Random Acts of Violence premieres August 20, 2020, on Shudder]