There’s been a recent trend of late where pop culture have been using real life crimes as the prism through which they filter their fiction and non-fiction narratives. Some are done with the finesse and respect for not only the very real victims of these crimes, but their families still living with the horrific repercussions. Others are done with a crass, exploitative bent serving up these tragedies for the soulless financial gain of making a quick and easy buck. And the last worst part is people on social media fostering schoolgirl crushes on serial killers, ignoring the fact that these people are murderous madmen, their idolatry a stark commentary on how deranged fandom and obsession can be. All of these aforementioned elements swirl in a poisonous mixture to make up the real message of RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, a gruesome, vicious candy-coated kill ‘em all from co-writer-director-actor Jay Baruchel.
RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, based upon a 2010 one-shot comic by writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmotti, follows Todd (Jesse Williams, all too familiar with meta-horror from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS), a comic book artist who makes his bread and butter via a comic called “Slasherman” which stylistically feasts on the very real life slayings of a psychopath called the 1-90 Killer, who from the years of 1987 to 1991 brutally murdered a swath of people before disappearing into the night. Once Todd sets out on a signing tour slash inspirational road trip to write his last issue, his girlfriend Kathy (played by a fantastic-as-usual Jordana Brewster), who is researching the murders for her own book on the killer’s victims, Todd’s producer (Baruchel playing in a similar humorous, but empathetic arena) and their assistant, Aurora. On the road, Todd and his group of travelers that Slasherman in his gory inked pages is all too real and cutting a flesh and blood tapestry straight through to them.
First off, owing to the fact that it’s based on a comic, RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is filled with seriously striking visuals.It adopts the comic book aesthetic in small doses, with some panels and animated shots, but not so much that it’s distracting. Plus, there’s a nice gloomy synth score backing the arresting style. Getting your film lensed by Karim Hussain will already get horror fans on your side, but the way the film is filled with disorienting tracking shots and gel-colored shots straight out of SUSPIRIA, made me fall in love from the first frame – the fact that it’s a straight up, old-school slasher only added icing to the cake. The violence in the film is quick, punchy and brutal – with Slasherman knifing people with unabashed glee. It’s the kind of savage stabbery on display in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II, with the “based on a true story” random killing of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN and the rural highway spookiness of THE HITCHER. What’s worse is you feel the weight of each murder, seeing that you do empathize with some of the characters being butchered – there’s a scene towards the end of the film where a character comes to grip with their inevitable death and it caught me off guard, seeing as how most writers don’t take care of this facet in their typical body count fare.
To circle back to my first point, the film has a lot on its mind when it comes to its message. First, there’s the art influencing murder influencing art component that we hear about all too much in real-life society. When senseless violence occurs, we look to blame something, because it’s better than facing the inescapable truth – that sometimes these things horrifically happen for no reason at all, and you can box something up with a nice bow. People have been murdering people for centuries now … hell, someone invented the concept of murder after all, and nothing in pop culture can be cited as a patient zero for their inspiration. So, naturally “Slasherman” would fit the bill for the blame in the violence taking place in the film’s world. That strand isn’t as interesting to me though – it’s always horror film and media that fall down as the scapegoat for violent, anti-social behavior. What really fascinates me in the film is the way people who are related to the victims’ act. In a harrowing, uncomfortable scene, Todd is confronted by someone who knew one of the 1-90 Killer’s victims. For someone to call out the exploitation of death for dough, that’s a tack I wish the movie would’ve explored more. But it’s really a minimal complaint, compared to how much the movie gets right. As it stands though, RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is a solid entry to the slasher pantheon for Baruchel and company. Make more like this please.