It’s been awhile since I last watched a slasher movie that I enjoyed.
In 2018 audiences were reintroduced to one of the original slasher “final girls”, Laurie Strode and the infamous Michael Myers with David Gordon Green‘s ‘Halloween‘. And if I’m completely honest, it was one of the most disappointing film I saw of that year. Being a huge fan of the original 1978 film written and directed by John Carpenter and a handful of its sequels, I hoped for a genuinely gripping 70s/80s styled slasher for the modern age. A “slasher movie revival” if you will. But for me – personally, I think it fell short in its attempts. A few hundred miles short in fact. It’s a stale affair. A wonderfully executed homage an almost forgotten sub-genre of horror that lacked any conviction. The key word to take from that is “homage”. After decades of disappointing sequels and a couple of subpar reboots, Green’s input into the Halloween franchise was simply not scary not memorable. When I think about it, I can’t remember a single kill from Green’s film. Any suspense the film created was instantly squashed with its daft and nonsensical dialogue and weak storytelling. For lack of a better word it felt like a typical mid-career David Gordon Green film, a film with low ball stoner comedy laughs and a questionable, excessive plot.
Fast-forward a couple of years, we’re given another glimmer of hope for that yesteryear-type horror flick for a modern audience. That glimmer of hope comes from Canadian heartthrob, Jay Baruchel. And I know what you’re thinking – wait, the dude who voices that emo-looking kid in the How to Train Your Dragon kids films? Yep! That’s the guy. If you ask me, I most recognise him as the apt awkward newcomer, Kevin Sandusky in the outrageously hilarious ‘Tropic Thunder’.
Based on the 2010 one-shot comic of the same name, Random Acts of Violence had been in development in 2011. Writing duo Baruchel and Jesse Chabot were hired to write and adapt the comic into a feature-length film. And seven years later, it’s here! Co-distributed by Elevation Pictures and Shudder, Random Acts of Violence is Baruchel’s second outing as a feature-length filmmaker.
So, with only one picture under his belt, can the eternally boyish Jay Baruchel deliver on gifting audiences a horror flick that doesn’t suffer the same affliction of style-over-substance as Green’s Halloween? Well, sort of. It isn’t quite a slam dunk. More an alley-oop.
Opening with an exquisitely put together scene taken from the ‘Slasherman‘ comic book series, creator Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) and girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster) read through the latest and final instalment in the Slasherman series. However, the final story in the long-running series is missing its ending. Todd suffers from writers block. And Todd’s counterpart Kathy, is working on her own project which directly opposes his work. Based on a real-life unidentified killer who operated along the I-90 in the U.S of A, Todd is accused of glamorising the real-life killer’s violence. Whereas Kathy’s project focuses on the victims, not romanticising the brutal real-life murders. Todd is keen to wrap up the series, feeling sensitive to such accusations.
With the conversation abruptly interrupted, we’re then introduced to the film’s supporting cast. Baruchel’s character Ezra, Todd’s publisher, alongside with his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson). The two decide that Todd should have a press tour for his comic book series in the town where the murders take place. A classic Canada to U.S.A road trip! And – the classic slasher trope of a road trip that you know is going to go horribly wrong for everyone involved. And unsurprisingly to the audience – unfortunately for the four, the real Slasherman catches wind of Todd’s press tour and starts his murderous tirade once again. With each savage and gory murder, the revived Slasherman leaves clues for Todd, taking inspiration directly from the same comic books based on his original killing spree. Eventually the group find themselves in the danger of the real-life killer and it doesn’t bode well. Aurora, Ezra and Kathy all meet their ill-fate in the most gruesome and meticulous ways imaginable. And that’s what really sells this film – it’s gory and methodical kills. Plenty of blood, lots of guts and body parts, screams, tears and an array of weapons are all at the disposal and expense of the Slasherman. Baruchel and Chabot’s attention to detail with every on-screen kill is dealt with absolutely precision and complete excellence. For bloodthirsty, seasoned horror fans who’re favourable of practical effects over special effects, there’s a lot to admire in this gruesome and extravagant slasher.
But sadly, that’s where the praise mostly ends. It’s yet another average, style-over-substance horror flick that bites off more than it can chew. It’s incoherent in its efforts to convey a food-for-thought message. Random Acts of Violence is leans heavily on its shock factor. It’s too preoccupied in the very thing the film tries to delve into – the glorification of real-life violence. The highlights of Random Acts are in its kills.
The script and acting is where the film suffers at its most. It’s second-rate. Lead actor, Williams simply isn’t compelling enough as someone who’s accountable for a revival in real-life murders. With each grizzly killing of those closest to him, his reactions don’t seem authentic. There’s a few tears, a couple profanities thrown out and then we’re onto the next scene, as if what’s just happened on-screen serves no real relevancy to the plot. Even when his beloved Kathy is slaine, Williams can’t muster up a believable enough reaction of genuine despair, regret or grief. Todd’s retort displays as much emotion as a brick wall.
As for the supporting actors, in particular – Jordana Brewster who’s most famously known for her roles as Mia Toretto in the Fast and the Furious franchise has the best acting chops in this ensemble cast. That being said, her performance as the cautious and sympathetic writer who’s fighting for the injustice of the real-life murders, as well as her partner’s glamorising is often over-the-top. In Kathy’s final on-screen moment, Brewster overacts as if her life actually depended on it. It doesn’t quite match the heights of Sally Hardesty from ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, or a Sidney Prescott of ‘Scream‘. Brewster’s overacting is feeble. But then again, her character isn’t a “final girl”. Her fate was always destined for doom.
It isn’t all bad news I’m delighted to say. Baruchel’s film does have a handful of redeeming characteristics.
One of its strongest qualities is in its animation and cinematography. Provided by Karim Hussain, Random Acts of Violence is a vibrant Technicolor nightmarish 80 minute film. As I previously mentioned, the film opens with a depiction of the Slasherman comic book series on-screen. It echoes Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Sin City‘. A comic-book brought to life on-screen, but not in the fashion Marvel or DC handle their adaptations. With each scene that dives into the pages of the Slasherman comic book series, the scenarios are adapted in stop-motion style as if you were reading a comic book, flicking through the pages, reading every speech bubble. It’s a sincere nod to its original source material that’s exquisitely done.
Another aspect I admire in Baruchel’s film is its music. In fact, “admire” would be an understatement. I adore the music in this film! Written and performed by Wade MacNeil of Alexisonfire and Gallows fame, the score is orchestral, abrasive, dark and booming. Fitting to the films lavishly fluorescent tint, MacNeil’s score is often thumping, arpeggiated industrial-eqsue synths that fans of Dario Argento’s mid-career filmography, Nine Inch Nails, Perturbator and Carpenter Brut would undoubtedly love. It’s immensely 80s. So chic that I could see Mondo or Waxwork Records releasing the soundtrack in the near future.
So, while noble in his attempt, Jay Baruchel doesn’t quite give audiences the forward-thinking slasher film horror fans like myself yearn for. Very nearly, but not quite. The film we have ended up with leaves a lot to be desired due to its weak script and below-average acting. Nonetheless, Baruchel and Chabot’s effort is still a fun and entertaining watch. Its few weaknesses are outweighed by its strongest attributes. I do believe the film has a bright future of going on to become a cult classic, potentially even a film franchise. The Slasherman character could be iconic enough to go on to be the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, if the the more thought-out stories were at its helm. For now, the film has a likeness of a grindhouse B-movie. It’s cheap, distasteful and exploitative. I encourage anybody who’s a fan of low-budget, “video nasty” type horror to give Random Acts of Violence a go!
Horror | Canada, 2019 | 18 | Shudder | Dir.Jay Baruchel | Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel