Truth. It’s cold-hearted. Unforgiving. And specific…
…There’s a truth to violence, one that we often disassociate from with horror films. In general, we view death and gore and complete and utter mayhem from an entertainment perspective, but once you begin to peel back the “how” of our joy and begin to ask “why” we feel that way, there’s an uncomfortable, unflinching truth hiding there in the dark. It’s that truth which director Jay Baruchel’s Random Acts of Violence, arriving on Blu-ray tomorrow from RLJE Films, seeks to uncover.
Written by Baruchel and Jesse Chabot and based on the comic by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti (which I will admit, I have not read), Random Acts of Violence follows comic writer Todd (Jesse Williams), who has built a huge success with his partner Ezra (Baruchel) over their comic Slasherman, a brutal, bloody exploitation comic based on a series of murders from the 80s. Slasherman is coming to an end, but, unable to figure out an ending, Todd sets out on a road trip for inspiration with Ezra, his assistant, Aurora (Niamh Wilson), and Todd’s girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewser). Inspiration is taken to a whole new level though when a killer learns of their trip and comes closer and closer to the group, recreating acts of violence from the comic along the way.
What follows is a neon-imbued, striking and unflinching journey through the darkest bowels of the imagination that left me squirming in my seat.
Random Acts of Violence may be one of the best horror films to capture the comic vibe since Creepshow, and the 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray further enriches the colors and enhances the surreal atmosphere. Jay and cinematographer Karim Hussain go heavy on the neon, giving the film that bright, detached from reality vibe that so many try to capture and fail to recreate. From straight up comic animations to subtle greens lighting a lonely vehicle on the highway, there’s a consistent sense that the world of the Slasherman comic and Todd’s reality have collided.
But Random Acts of Violence does not deliver the cartoony, fun, over-the-top violence of predecessors like Creepshow. Instead, Baruchel weaponizes the violence of the film to great effect.
Living up to its title, Random Acts of Violence is exactly that: random, sudden, and violent. The fun comic-book style of the film at first makes the audience feel all warm and snug, expecting a slasher film that matches the look. But the killer in Random Acts is not your Jason Voorhees type, a campy specter dispatching victims in increasingly over-the-top manner. Wearing a welder’s mask, he may look a bit like My Bloody Valentine’s Miner, but there is nothing entertaining about the death in Random Acts. There is nothing “fun” about this killer. Random Acts of Violence assaults the viewer with kill scenes that refuse to offer any entertainment value. They are ugly, sick, and do everything in their power to make you look away. Jason shooting a harpoon into someone’s eye: fun. Slasherman stabbing someone well over what feels like 30 times: cringe-worthy.
Once the killing is over, the neon-lighting disappears and we’re met with the cold light of day exposing flies buzzing around severed heads and a macabre sculpture called “The Triptych”, which may be one of the most grotesque images in horror in years.
Random Acts of Violence brings the reality of death crashing down on the audience with savage force.
In revisiting the film for this review, it’s hard not to look back at the initial release and not feel like Baruchel is sitting squarely in the seat of Todd. The first few comic-book inspired frames reveal that Todd has no ending, and that he’s struggling because this is “my last chance to show the critics that it actually means something.” That right there, plain as day, is Jay reaching out to all of us reviewing the film and asking us to consider the violence of the genre we love, to really think about it.
“How dare you make me feel anything but love for the horror genre, Jay,” seemed to be the popular response to that. I was one of them, and I regret it.
As horror fans, we don’t always want to look in the mirror and ask what it is about the violence that we appreciate, or what it says about us, if anything. The main crux of the question Jay is asking in Random Acts of Violence is “why?” Why do we admire the villains, and almost never the victims? One rabid fan approaches Todd with a bloody model inspired by a scene in the comic and mutters with a chilling adoration, “Slasherman is my life, my religion. I find it…inspiring.”
During a fantastic interview on the disc, we get deep into Jay’s thinking with the film, as he discusses how uncomfortable he is with the fact that we admire the hell out of Jason, yet if you asked us to name every character in Friday the 13th Part 2 off the top of your head, could you?
Random Acts of Violence is a challenging film for not just general audiences, but horror fans in particular. The film isn’t an attack on the things we enjoy, but it does ask a lot of difficult questions which Random Acts explores not out of hatred, but curiosity.
And that’s why this disc is so important for fans of the film and its critics.
While the feature “More than Just a Scary Movie” is nothing more than a brief teaser for the film, and “Inside the Making of an Action Scene” might be interesting for those who want to get a glimpse of how the junkyard scene was shot, Jay’s lengthy interview offers a bevy of insight into himself as a horror fan, his thoughts on where the genre is, where it’s been and where it’s going, and why he wanted to make this movie.
During the interview, Jay at one point mentions that horror is the “punk rock” of movies. It’s misunderstood. It’s aggressive. It’s the rebel genre that asks the questions that “safer” films don’t.
Random Acts of Violence is an utterly grotesque and disturbing experience that works as the ultimate rebel horror film, with a brave, no-nonsense approach that dares us to look deep inside the genre and ourselves as fans. What Random Acts exposes is the cold reality of the violence. It shows us the truth of what we consume every day. Baruchel is never saying that that’s a bad thing, but leaves us with a philosophical question that has no clear answer. Why do we like this?
For anyone that enjoys the film or felt like they left with unanswered questions, it’s disappointing that there is no commentary to get Baruchel’s explicit thoughts during each scene, but the lengthy interview will have you walking away with a better understanding of what Baruchel wanted to accomplish, and for that, this disc is worth every bloody penny.
Random Acts of Violence releases on VOD, Digital, and Blu-ray/DVD from RLJE Films on February 16th. Check out the full list of special features below. You can also currently stream Random Acts of Violence on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka