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RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE ***

Directed by Jay Baruchel.

Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel.

Horror, US, 80 minutes.

 

On Demand – Shudder from August 20th

 

As an actor Jay Baruchel has made his name with comedies such as KNOCKED UP and THIS IS THE END, while children of the last decade will probably know him by voice alone from the animated HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON franchise. When all this was going on it seems his head was firmly in the horror game. Based on a graphic novel published in 2010 its film rights were quickly sold and Baruchel was immediately attached as scriptwriter, finally bringing it to the screen for his second directorial effort, after the sequel GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS. With this very singular entry, so far, in his filmography he makes a flawed yet somewhat fascinating look at real life violence being used for creative gains and the harmful ramifications of doing so.

 

Comic book writer Todd, (Williams) is struggling to come up with an ending for his long running series Slasherman, a horror comic inspired by a serial killer who stalked the I-90 highway. Embarking on a road trip with his girlfriend Kathy (Brewster) who is writing her own book about the real-life victims and the comics publisher Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) they travel the same highway to a proposed comic convention, hoping to pick up some creative inspiration along the way. However, when a trail of gruesome, elaborate murders seemingly ripped from the pages of Slasherman begins to manifest in their trail, Jesse begins to wonder if there is a closer connection to the killer other than being used as an artistic inspiration.

What follows is a somewhat muddled look at the issue of creative responsibility. At several times during the films brief 80-minute running time the issue is raised by characters but never seriously explored. Instead we are treated to a structure of discussion/murder/discussion. Like the discussion scenes the murder scenes seem to be aiming to be taken seriously with the matter of fact way in which they are displayed and filmed. But thanks to Baruchel’s flat direction and a number of performances that reach the heights of camp and hysteria at the drop of a hat the effect is quickly lost. For the most part the film is a disjointed mix of slasher film and examination of real-life tragedy being exploited by pop culture. On another level it could be looked at as a condemnation of the reactionary criticism that the horror genre sometimes attracts but thanks to its mixed tone it never hits the target on any of these matters.

 

By the time the film reveals its secrets however something truly interesting happens. An extended flashback revealing the films secrets is shown without dialogue. As a piece of visual storytelling it succeeds where lots of other thrillers and horror films fail when they use expository dialogue to tie up every loose end. Baruchel forgoes this with a sequence where the colour scheme becomes more hallucinatory as the blood begins to flow. It is easily the films most experimental sequence and most successful. It shows that Baruchel’s self-proclaimed love for the genre has resulted here in a potentially very interesting career as a horror auteur if he follows this vein of storytelling more in the future. That the sequence pays off with a satisfying conclusion seems to indicate that the films flat first half betrays the fact that Baruchel has more of a skilled eye for the abstract than the usual slasher clichés we are far too used to.

 

Hopefully this will be the case as RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE seems to suggest there is a filmmaker really attempting to do something more with slasher cinema here than the usual low budget efforts which are more than happy to deliver the goods without looking into why they do what they do and why we like it so much.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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