Written by Elizabeth Bishop
Shudder has been lighting up social media, and making national news here in the UK with the recent release of Host, the low-budget found-footage zoom-based horror. Next up for Shudder exclusive releases is Random Acts of Violence. Can it match the Host hype?
Based on the one-shot graphic novel by the same name, Random Acts of Violence is the second directorial effort from Canadian actor-turned-director Jay Baruchel (This is the End), and follows comic book writer Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams – The Cabin in the Woods), his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster – Fast & Furious), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson – Saw franchise) and publisher Ezra (Baruchel), as they embark on a press tour to announce the launch of the final issue of Slasherman.
Slasherman is a comic book series based on a serial killer that massacred several victims 20 years previous, but was never found or bought to justice. As part of the press tour, the group begin to visit the locations of the killings, but things soon turn gruesome when it seems that a real-life perpetrator is recreating murder scenes from the comic. Between strong bloody kills, relationship breakdowns and hints of mysterious past events, Random Acts of Violence opens up an interesting conversation on how much media can influence real life crime, and how much a creator of such detailed and ghastly fantasies can be held accountable when they begin to become a reality.
I definitely went into this one expecting some kind of dark comedy, like Scream meets Kick-Ass, so when the first kill landed I was definitely taken back by the brutality of it, and it only got worse from there. The finale, in particular, shocked and impressed me with how ruthless it was.
In an interview with Cult Mtl, Baruchel said that he tried his best to have this movie “play out strange and sad and clumsy” and I think in that sense he really nailed it. The use of colour here is an exquisite joy to watch, and a perfect juxtaposition with wobbly camera work and the gruesome events taking place on screen. Bold blues, greens, purples and pinks really give it that nod to the 80s – the slasher decade, however Random acts of Violence is definitely not your standard slasher.
Sure, there are obnoxious teenagers being murdered by a mysterious masked figure – this is nothing original – but something about the awkward, almost hesitant way they executed the kills was like nothing I have ever seen before. It intrigued me, and left me desperate for answers.
The killers signature look is probably the most familiar slasher trope, and as it consists of just a simple easy-to-replicate mask, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that this character becomes a recognisable horror icon and a popular Halloween costume in years to come.
If you’re not a huge fan of comic book-based movies, don’t worry, this is no Superman movie. There are no buff superheroes swooping in to save any of the victims and make the world a safe, happy place again. There is no comic-relief (excuse the pun) here. This is an all-out gory, disturbing, and quite frankly depressing look at art imitating life, imitating art.
As the victims pile up, our main character Todd is reprimanded, even by his wife and friends, for the sick and twisted – but fictional – events that take place in his stories. Unfortunately, for me, the way this was handled led me to find some of the characters pretty unlikeable and the dialogue a little unbelievable. Maybe that’s because, as a horror fan who enjoys the nastier, more graphic depictions of violence in media, I don’t believe that there is any room for blame in creating these kinds of stories for entertainment. I truly believe that if someone is capable of a crime as heinous as murder, that it will probably happen regardless of whether their favourite graphic novel is Spider-Man or Nailbiter.
Despite some of the characters questionable behaviour, I do feel that Williams and Brewster give really strong performances. Todd is struggling to give Slasherman an ending that will satisfy his fans, whilst also giving it a sense of meaning, whilst Kathy is more concerned with telling the story of the real-life victims and giving them a voice. It feels like they are always teetering on the edge of a blow-up, the tension is palpable and, as Todd is faced with the reality that he has inspired the deaths of new victims, things only get more difficult for our leading couple.
Overall I enjoyed Random Acts of Violence. It’s a brutal and honest commentary on the influence fiction can have on reality, without being too clear on which side of the fence it falls on, leaving it open for a really interesting discussion for viewers. I loved the way the comic wasn’t really the point of the story, but more of a catalyst for the events that take place, and a clever way for the killer to communicate with Todd.
I wish the film had been longer, and given us a bit more in the way of character development to allow us to bond and empathise with the characters further, and I also wish there was more clarity around Todd’s past – I was definitely left with some questions. However, the incredible use of colour, and the savage use of blood and LITERAL guts has left this one firmly imprinted on my mind.
Is it as original and effective as Host? Not by a long shot, unfortunately, but it was almost as scary in a completely different way. Host had me sleeping with the lights on – Random Acts of Violence had me double and triple-checking my door and windows were all locked.
Verdict: 3 out of 5