Review by Sean Boelman
The role that violent media has in inspiring real-life violence has been a topic debated by media scholars for years, and this is the central theme of Jay Baruchel’s new slasher flick Random Acts of Violence. Yet despite interesting ideas and a few haunting moments, the film is a bit too haphazard in nature to be particularly effective.
The movie follows a comic book writer and his friends who set out on a road trip to promote his newest work only to discover that there is a serial killer on the loose using his violent creations as inspiration for his murder spree. Itself based on a graphic novel by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the metaness of the initial premise is interesting, but Baruchel and co-writer Jesse Chabot make little more than an average slasher out of it.
There are two sequences in the film, the two most prominent kill scenes, that are full of intensity and feature some truly disturbing imagery. Unfortunately, these excellent horror moments simply tease what could have been had the rest of the movie been shot in a similarly suspenseful and atmospheric way.
Perhaps the bigger issue with the film, though, is that the filler content between these kills isn’t particularly satisfying. The dialogue feels unnaturally direct and on-the-nose, and there is a feeling of repetitiveness to these scenes that aren’t oriented on action. The discussion on the idea of art inspiring violence (and vice versa) is hammered in so many times that nothing is left to the audience’s interpretation.
Additionally, one may find it hard to care about the characters because they are so underdeveloped. There are relationships between the four leads used in an attempt to make them more relatable, but these efforts frequently feel shallow and are far too reliant on archetypes to elicit much of a reaction from the viewer.
That said, the cast does a solid job in their roles. Jesse Williams is interesting to watch as the artists whose world is crumbling around him. Of the cast, he is the star who gives a performance resembling subtlety. Jordana Brewster and Jay Baruchel, on the other hand, go all-in on the schlockiness factor and make the movie more fun as a result.
Visually, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. Baruchel seems to have been torn between going for a darker and more traditional horror vibe or a stylish comic-inspired look, and so there are scenes of both. Because of this, the tone feels extremely messy and audiences will be confused as to whether or not they should take this seriously.
Random Acts of Violence doesn’t live up to its potential — in fact, it’s a pretty big mess — but there are enough moments of horror greatness in there that it’s worth a watch. Jay Baruchel obviously has an interesting vision within the genre, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with a more cohesive script.
Random Acts of Violence streams on Shudder beginning August 20.