The title says it all: ‘Random Acts of Violence’

by Nick Spacek on August 18, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

Streaming exclusively on Shudder on Aug. 20

Director Jay Baruchel‘s sophomore feature, Random Acts of Violence, is an adaptation of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s graphic novel from a script by the director and Jesse Chabot, and is a relentlessly dark and violent picture.

“What are the real consequences when life begins to imitate art? Comic book creator Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams), his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and best friend, Hard Calibre Comics owner Ezra (Baruchel), embark upon a road trip from Toronto to New York Comic Con and bad things start to happen. People start getting killed.

It soon becomes clear that a crazed fan is using Todd’s Slasherman comic as inspiration for the killings and as the bodies pile up, and Todd’s friends and family become victims themselves, Todd will be forced to take artistic responsibility.”

Entertainment is all about willing suspension of disbelief. However, there does come a point at which one has suspended said belief by the neck until it is dead, or so the apocryphal quote goes. I’ve written about this at length before, but there is a trope specific to film wherein a niche entertainment is – within the world of what you’re watching – the biggest thing ever. Think entire towns devoted to demolition derby (Grandview U.S.A.), BMX biking (Rad), or cheesy metal bands (Trick or Treat, Blood Roses, et al).

In the case of Baruchel’s Random Acts of Violence, it’s the fact that Walkley’s Slasherman is one of the biggest things going in comics. While comic books do have the occasional tendency to raise up strange and intriguing topics – take a look at the world-warping sci-fi scope of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga – the idea that a comic about a highway murderer, with graphic depictions of violence, would warrant a tour which garners radio interviews is pushing things a bit past believability.

Also, the comic art is terrible. By no stretch of the imagination could something which looks this half-assed become a phenomenon, except for a meme about how bad it is. Calling it workmanlike would be a compliment far above what it deserves. It’s the axle around which this whole thing is supposed to rotate, and the wheels have fallen off before the car’s left the driveway.

From a cinematography point of view however, Random Acts of Violence is a masterpiece. The scenes of Slasherman attacking have all the impact of Zodiac, with Karim Hussain lensing this film like it’s a nightmarish fever dream. Fantasy has bled into reality for the film’s killer, and watching the film through those eyes makes for a terrifying visual experience. Scenes are shot in ways which constantly obscure, forcing the viewer to constantly examine in detail what’s taking place, even when they desperately want to look away.

Kills are viewed from a distance, allowing violence to happen in a silent wide shot, or in the pouring rain, in the dark, with the aftermath viewed beneath flapping tarps which only lift up long enough for the horrors to be fully seen in the briefest of moments. It’s a panoply of horrific imagery, made all the worse by the fact that the characters with whom the viewer most empathizes – those who aren’t being self-involved, socially inept, generally-unpleasant tools – are the ones who are taken out.

But our lead foursome is awkward and uncomfortable, and all the people they meet are confrontational and awful. Random Acts of Violence ends up being a steady stream of unpleasant encounters which alternate between teeth-grinding interpersonal interactions and physical violence which is Texas Chainsaw Massacre-level in its bluntness.

At no point do you ever feel as if this is entertainment. It’s an endurance challenge.

Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with two kids and three cats. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online. In addition to his work for Scene-Stealers, Nick can be found bitching about music elsewhere on the Internet at his blog, Rock Star Journalist, and as Music Editor for The Pitch.

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