GORE IN THE STORE
RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE ****
Directed by Jay Baruchel.
Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Simon Northwood, Niamh Wilson.
USA / Canada 2019 80 minutes Certificate: 18
Out now on Blu-Ray, Digital and DVD from Acorn Media International.
Set to a pounding, relentless synth score by THE RANGER’s Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson (the latter also doubling up as editor), here’s a dynamically paced 21st century slasher flick that delivers the brutal, suspenseful goods. A self-confessed 11th Grade Fangoria-obsessive, co-writer / director Jay Baruchel (adapting the self-referential Image Comics one-shot graphic novel by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti) proves adept with a career change of pace after becoming best known for the GOON movies and TRAILER PARK BOYS.
Jesse Williams, who spent 12 years on GRAY’S ANATOMY and was a key part of the CABIN IN THE WOODS ensemble, is charismatic and likeable as a comic book writer frustrated by the expectations of his audience and desperate to write something more esoteric. He’s looking for inspiration as he crafts the final issue of chart-topping R-rated comic, yearning to show the critics and naysayers that he’s not just about hype. To that end, he hits the road with loyal assistant Jordana Brewster (whose own horror form, beyond 36 FAST & FURIOUS movies, spans from her movie debut with THE FACULTY to Final Girl duties on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING) and manager (Baruchel) seeking ideas for the big finale of “Slasherman”, a serial-killer protagonist inspired by the I-90 murders. Meanwhile, a real killer begins violently offing random victims, cryptically calling Williams to brag while revealing specific issue and page numbers of the comics that he has used as a template for his murder spree.
This is a great looking picture – as you might expect with veteran genre cinematographer Karim Hussain behind the camera: his two decades of experience stretches from SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY (was that really from 2000?!) through to last year’s outstanding POSSESSOR. Baruchel doesn’t flinch from intense, brutal acts of violence, including the startling execution of a family on the road. Both leads capture real terror as their situation becomes ever more dire and the tone is genuinely grim: note the eerie reveal set to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The frenzied stabbing of ill-fated students is jarring, and the grim tableau of a triptych of victims, ripped from a gruesome ‘Slasherman’ image, echoes the macabre beauty of Brian Fuller’s peerless HANNIBAL TV series.
As director, Baruchel has fun with genre archetypes – note the ominous, obligatory gas station interlude – while opening up the age-old violence-in-entertainment debate intelligently. The authorities call Williams out for the violence in his work, while the actual killer gloats and rabid Slasherman fans enthuse about the books during autograph sessions at New York Comic Con; Williams reasons that he has drawn 1000 kills and that, once in a while, one of those fictional acts of violence might match with real events in “this crazy country”. “You were keeping my work alive” brags the (convincingly unhinged) killer as he explains how he resumed his rampage when the comic book seemed in its final furlong. Most importantly, this stylish flick unfolds without an ounce of fat.
Originally released to streaming in 2020 as a “Shudder Original”, the movie now enjoys a Blu-ray release, with a decent 36 minute, pandemic-era Skype chat (complete with the expected “unstable connection” moments) in which Baruchel talks about his love of horror and of prosthetic FX – alongside his desire to redress the balance of how we rarely remember the names of slasher movie victims, but can usually recall that of the killer.