Random Acts of Violence
31 Aug 2021
Jay Baruchel, Jesse Chabot
Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster
Random Acts of Violence has a good reason for integrating animated comic book snippets into its general comic book colour palette—the medium has a central place in its plot. Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) is the author of Slasherman, a comic book series that graphically depicts the murders of a serial killer who was never caught. While Walkley is on a press tour promoting Slasherman’s final ever issue, the real Slasherman starts killing again, inspired by the comic books. So spooky!
Even before the “slashing” starts, this film’s biggest problem is pushed right to the fore—director-writer Jay Baruchel’s bone-headed attempt at meta-commentary. His characters discuss in the plainest terms the debate over the pervasive influence of graphic violence in popular culture; in a film that fetishizes graphic violence. The protagonist writes murder comics, the comics inspire murder. But the film is in itself a murder comic! So meta, it’s levels within levels within a wart wrapped inside of a piece of toilet paper being wiped by a chimpanzee sitting on a landfill.
When the murder-spree does commence, a question briefly arises about what value there is in gleefully depicting vicious acts of harm without having anything to say about them. I guess at most people get on-board with slashers like you get on-board a theme park ride; indeed Random Acts Of Violence’s closest analogue isn’t another movie but one of Thorpe Park’s fright nights, only less fun and more unpleasant. On a structural level, none of the characters are written or acted well enough to actually reciprocate horror when horrible misdeeds happen to them. It’s too thin and in essence too silly, but not played for laughs. Read the plot like this: a guy in a bad Halloween costume drives around North America hacking to death sexy millennials. The film is nowhere near as kitsch as that sentence indicates it could’ve been.
Editing is also a notable lowlight. Nadirs include a seizure-inducing title sequence and several segments of intercut black-screens, which cleverly mimic the experience of passing out while watching the movie. If trying and failing to be a scary rollercoaster was all Random Acts of Violence wanted to be, the failure wouldn’t be nearly as bad. But the meta-commentary and a faux-philosophising finale ensure it has—watch out for this landmine—thematic pretensions. Still, at least the murderer’s bible quoting gets subverted, otherwise the word trite would have been added to the epitaph: Ultra-Violent Cartoon Piffle.