‘Random Acts of Violence’ is a Back-Handed Love Letter to the Horror Genre

A still from 'Random Acts of Violence'. Todd (Jesse Williams) is shot in close-up being attacked by a welding-mask wearing killer. The attacker has his forearm pressed against Todd's throat as Todd's eyes bulge out in horror.

Jumping on the highway to hell, we’ve got yet another road trip horror that hits all the best gore-fest tourist spots while leaving its central theme a little stranded. 

Random Acts of Violence follows a comic book writer Todd (Jesse Williams) and his novelist girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster) as they embark on a road-trip with Todd’s publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson). The roadtrip is both a comic book tour for Todd as he promotes his next upcoming installment in his ‘Slasherman’ series and it is also a research trip for Kathy’s new novel, which focuses on Slasherman’s victims. In this universe, Slasherman is a real-life serial killer who was active during the late 80’s and was never caught. Todd’s fictionalisation of this killer creates friction with many, especially those who knew the victims of these atrocities. However, the friction increases when a new series of killings occur, all of which seem to mimic the fictionalised killings in Todd’s comic books.  

Co-written and directed by co-star Jay Baruchel, Random Acts of Violence is intended to be both a love letter to old-school grindhouse horror film-making as well as a critique of modern horror standards. Baruchel embraces horror of yester-year by crafting a visually vivid film, turning up the colour saturation and opting for bright coloured lights, likely inspired by Suspiria and Black Christmas. Baruchel also leans into some brilliantly gory blood-squirting kills and practical effects that bring back the visceral charm that 80s horrors had. 

A still from 'Random Acts of Violence'. The four main characters Kathy (Jordana Brewster), Todd (Jesse Williams), Ezra (Jay Baruchel), (Kathy), and Aurora (Niamh Wilson) are standing together at a gas station in front of a grey car, looking perplexed at whatever is in front of them. Kathy has long brown hair and is wearing rose pink glasses, a white t-shirt and blue jeans. Todd is clutching his hands together and is wearing a checkered khaki shirt over a grey t-shirt and blue jeans. Ezra is covering his mouth with his hand and clutching his fist, while wearing a navy jacket over a black t-shirt and denim shorts. Aurora is folding her arms and has wavy blonde hair, while wearing a pink jacket and black shorts with a belt.

Unsatisfied with only delivering random acts of violence, writers Baruchel and Jesse Chabot also raise critique of the genre. They explore a debate that all horror lovers must dredge through while defending our genre: does horrifying media inspire horrifying reality? When first introduced to Todd, we see him struggling to find harmony between writing a story that excites his gore-fanatic audience while still relaying a meaningful message; throughout his road-trip, he is also met with judgmental critics who berate his morbid appropriation of real-life crimes. In a time where True Crime podcasts and documentaries thrive and we tip-toe the line between morbid curiosity and glorification of horrific crimes, it’s interesting to see a horror film —a medium so vehemently blamed for inspiring real life cruelty— tackle the debate. The film explores the genre’s tendency to relish in ‘torture porn’ centered round women as well as diving into the sticky territory of platforming real-life crimes in a fictional manner, that some may argue celebrates the crimes (see every online debate that erupted after the announcement of the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile).

Although these points are raised, the film never quite lands them. In the press statement that accompanied this feature, Baruchel says that his love for horror stems back to his childhood, however he’s critical of the direction horror has taken, saying that the genre has turned ‘stagnant —a warehouse for outdated ideas and misogyny apologists (…) the vast majority of horror flicks feature characters nobody cares about, in cynically engineered circumstances that fetishise cruelty’. This is a debate that has rattled round the conservative minds of the morally aghast for decades and, for a time in the early century where cheap slasher sequels with vapid teen characters dominated, may have been worthy. However, in a time where “elevated horror” (ugh, I know but bear with me) dominates, this perspective seems dated. Horror already has layered characters audiences can empathise with, it already has meaningful themes with engaging and intellectual subtext (and arguably, always did if you knew where to look), so dragging this genre back into the tired debate of glorification of horror seems a bit pointless. 

Regardless of the slight misstep in theme, Random Acts of Violence is a perfectly enjoyable horror. The characters are meaty enough for audiences to care when they’re sliced and diced and the kills are creative and visually interesting. This film may not ever be a box-office killer but it’s one that takes an interesting journey with a satisfying enough destination. Some audiences may be driven to question the necessity of this film’s focal argument however at least it raises debate, which is more of an impact than many films can achieve. 

Random Acts of Violence will be available to stream on Shudder from August 20th

by Michaela Barton

Michaela is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow who watches far too much Netflix so might as well make a career out of it. Her one true love is procrastination but she’s also a fan of feminist and queer theory, ugly dad shirts, and abducting cats. You can find her on Twitter at @MichaelaBarton_

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