RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE movie poster | ©2020 Shudder/Elevation Pictures

RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE movie poster | ©2020 Shudder/Elevation Pictures

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Simon Northwood, Niamh Wilson, Clark Backo
Writers: Jay Baruchel & Jesse Chabot, based on the graphic novel written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Director: Jay Baruchel
Distributor: Elevation Pictures (Canada); Shudder (U.S.)
Release Date: July 18, 2020 (Canada); August 20, 2020 (U.S., U.K., Ireland)

 RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, based on the graphic novel written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo, has a lot on its mind. Directed by Jay Baruchel from a screenplay by Baruchel & Jesse Chabot, the movie is a bloody slasher that centers on the question of whether violent art reflects or inspires (or both, or neither) violent actions.

Todd (Jesse Williams) is a high-strung comic book writer/artist who has a hit with his “Slasherman” series. He’s trying his hand at deconstructionism, telling the reader/viewer that perception isn’t truth in what he’s contemplating as his end narration for the books. We soon see that Todd is having serious creative block in terms of finding a conclusion to the “Slasherman” run.

“Slasherman,” we learn, is based on the real (within the RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE universe) I-90 Killer, responsible for six known murders and believed responsible for many others between 1987 and 1991. He was never identified, never mind caught, and Todd just doesn’t know how to wrap up his fictional version.

Meanwhile, Todd’s wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster) has embarked on a nonfiction book about the I-90 Killer’s victims, wanting them to be known better than their murderer. Todd and Kathy go on a road trip/publicity jaunt with “Slasherman” publisher Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant/aspiring artist Aurora (Niamh Wilson).

At what’s meant to be a nice little radio promo interview, Todd gets into it with the host, who accuses Todd of glorifying violence, encouraging murder, and generally disrespecting the dead. And then somebody starts staging killings that are copies of “Slasherman” panels.

Baruchel has a lot of fun with graphic novel style, utilizing artwork outright in a few sequences, and imitating its look elsewhere (the moon and a cell tower both glow neon green against the black of night). He also has a blast with the gore, and gets a couple of decent jump scares. The score by Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson is pleasingly evocative of the Goblins horror movie scores of yore.

The actors are all good, with Williams putting a lot of energy into Todd’s angst and ego. Brewster hits a nerve with her portrayal of a woman seeking to reconcile her marriage and her ethics. Wilson is likable, Baruchel is credible, and Simon Northwood does strong work in a difficult part.

But when RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE tries to seriously explore its issues, it ties its bootlaces together. First of all, within the story, “Slasherman” isn’t just ye olde ultra-violence, it’s exploiting killings of real individuals as comic book content. This can be seen as exploiting the dead and further traumatizing specific actual survivors, which is a subject separate from the question of violent entertainment. (For instance, people may be offended by, say, FRIDAY THE 13TH, but nobody is likely to take Jason Voorhees’s actions personally.)

Then there’s the twist that RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE puts on the plot, which makes the whole enterprise sidestep what appears to be the point. Even before we get there, as soon as the characters understand that someone is replicating Todd’s art, the murders can be called many things, but “random” isn’t one of them. The more the movie tries to simultaneously be both what it is and a meta examination of the genre, the more it pulls us out of what it’s doing on both fronts. There’s talent on display – and horror satisfactions – but the rhetoric doesn’t hold up.

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