New Horror Releases: Random Acts of Violence (2020) - Reviewed

When you think of Jay Baruchel, chances are you probably think of an awkward, lanky guy who’s featured in countless comedies.  Unless you’re thinking about his past appearances on Are You Afraid of the Dark?, you normally wouldn’t associate him with the horror genre.  Nevertheless, Jay has decided to defy all expectations by writing, directing, and acting in in the aptly named Random Acts of Violence, proving to audiences he has range, but not necessarily impressing anyone in the process.

The film follows the classic “writer’s fictitious work coming to life” premise with a few twists.  In this case, we follow Todd (Jesse Williams), a comic book creator who is famous for making the controversial, ultra-gory Slasherman comic book series.  Todd wants to end the comic, but doesn’t quite know how, so he goes on a road trip with his partner Ezra (Jay Baruchel), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), and wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is an author writing a book about the real-life inspiration for the character Slasherman.  Travelling to the area where the actual serial killer once hunted his prey, the group gets an unfriendly welcome, and grizzly murders start happening that mimic those out of Todd’s comics.

The most noteworthy aspect of this film is Karim Hussain’s eye-catching cinematography.  Known for his work on horror films like Hobo with a Shotgun and ABCs of Death, Hussain knows how to create looks that fit a film’s world perfectly – in this case, a moody comic book-inspired palette of saturated shots.  Combined with flashy animated sequences depicting moments from the comic book, the film has a great look to it, if nothing else.

While the cast is undoubtedly a talented bunch, all of the performances are forgettable, thanks to a relatively two-dimensional script and uninspired directing.  Jesse Williams plays his character with such little passion that he’s completely unconvincing as a semi-tortured artist witnessing his disturbing comics come to life.  This type of hyper-stylized horror film begs for some over-the-top – perhaps even comedic – characters, but they instead stay frustratingly monotone, which is a shame, considering Baruchel’s comedic background.  In a possible attempt to validate his place in the genre by choosing to play the story straight rather than add camp, he made the film less fun, which is key to making a film like this work.

Another problem with Random Acts of Violence is how heavy-handed it is with the “moral of the story,” while simultaneously contradicting itself.  We are bashed on the head with the message that a writer’s work can have palpable consequences, and how creators of violent media must take personal responsibility for the monsters they create in the process, but the fact that this movie is in essence what it is admonishing makes the message feel disingenuous.  Had the film been subtler about its social commentary, it might have worked better, but as it stands, it feels like a slasher flick desperately trying to have more depth than it does.

Kudos to Jay Baruchel for boldly stepping outside of his comfort zone and attempting to branch out, but Random Acts of Violence is an average, underwhelming horror film at best.  It has a few memorable moments, and Baruchel shows some promise, but the film could have been much better than it is. 

--Andrea Riley