It’s rare that you find a literary adaptation that surpasses the source material, but with Random Acts of Violence, Jay Baruchel does just that. With brilliant, hypnotic cinematography by Karim Hussein (Hobo with a Shotgun, Possessor), and a pulsating score by Andrew Gordon Macpherson (The Ranger, Dark Side of the Ring) and Wade MacNeil (Alexisonfire, Black Lungs), Random Acts of Violence is a brutally bloody meditation on our cultural celebration of cruelty and societal reactions to violence as art.
After working on the script for over 8 years, Baruchel and co-writer Jesse Chabot finally found the right time to make it happen. You can tell it’s a project they’re passionate about; the script is nuanced yet forthright, dissecting the intersection of real violence and pop culture when it comes to topics like true crime and the horror genre. This is Baruchel’s second time working a set from the director’s chair (the first being Goon: Last of the Enforcers), and it sets a promising tone for any future horror endeavors.
In the film, comic book creator Todd (Jesse Williams, Cabin in the Woods), his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster, the Fast and the Furious franchise), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), and best friend, Hard Calibre Comics owner Ezra (Baruchel), embark on a road trip from Toronto to New York Comic Con. Bad things start to happen, people start getting killed, and it soon becomes clear that someone is using Todd’s “Slasherman” comic as inspiration for the murders.
Visually, Random Acts of Violence knocks it out of the park. The lighting soaks each setting in color; it smothers in rich, moody tones akin to the saturated scenes of Gaspar Noé. Steadicams and shifting dutch angles burrow under your skin and force the film forward; it feels like a moving train that can’t be stopped, much like the murders themselves. Cinematographer Karim Hussein and Baruchel have developed a very distinct visual language that translates so incredibly well. It has a palpable energy that’s truly its own.
The film perfectly captures the vibe of a graphic novel without feeling cartoonish. The score, the sets, the lighting, every element combines in a vibrant medley that still holds a lot of grit. This film has some serious character.
And when it comes to the titular cruelty seen in the film, Random Acts of Violence pulls no punches. The violence is heavy, and some shots really hit me; they were raw and chaotic. Virtually everything is achieved practically — it’s visceral, surprising, and impressive. That said, it never feels excessive. It’s just enough to burn the images into your brain without going so over-the-top that it becomes silly. It feels rough, and it feels real.
Branching off from the 2010 one-shot graphic novel of the same name (by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), Random Acts of Violence expands on the comic’s original concept. In the film, we see Todd not as an enthusiastic new talent, but as a jaded and weary writer who just wants to bring his series to its brutal, bloody end while avoiding responsibility for his violent creation. In a similar shift, the character of Kathy takes agency and gives a humble yet dedicated voice to victims of “real life” tragedies. By adding these dimensions, Baruchel and Chabot are able to open the dialogue about violence and art, giving each side of the argument its fair dues.
The film captures this glorification of true crime and killer culture while ensuring that there is a focus not only on the villain, but on the victims. But it doesn’t take a soft hand when dealing with our obsession with violence; the script is very blunt when presenting both sides of the argument for/against responsibility, and in the process, skewers the way the horror genre has been commonly approached.
The film opens with a monologue on the nature of art and its criticism, tucked away in the panels of a “Slasherman” comic. When Todd tries to justify the inclusion of this esoteric writing in his final issue, he is questioned by Kathy for attempting to put a bit of medicine in with the sugar. “Everybody wants all sugar all the time”, he sighs, exasperated in the corner he’s drawn himself into.
During a brief scene of a newscast, a scrolling poll asks “is our country too violent”. Baruchel confronts that question with the visceral acts of violence that pull the film along. These meta moments steer the conversation about our cultural obsession with cruelty, and the horror genre’s perceived propensity for thoughtless bloodshed. “Real art is born of truth,” the script states, “everything else is masturbation”. The delicious irony of that statement is not lost on me as the film builds to its blood-splattered climax.
Through all this, the film uses brutality to push the story. Though Random Acts of Violence is a well polished film, its scripted acts of violence are not glamorous; they’re clumsy and realistically frenzied. Horror as a genre has been so often perceived as just inflicting pain on others for the sake of entertainment, and it’s been demonized for this. Random Acts of Violence is a vicious yet humbly self-reflecting horror that realizes the glorification of murder and mayhem while acknowledging its criticisms.
This is a horror film for horror fans who like a dose of medicine with the sugar. Gory, subversive, and self-aware, Random Acts of Violence just gets it.
You can check out Random Acts of Violence in theaters and on-demand in Canada on July 31, or on Shudder US, UK, and Ireland on August 20.