Jay Baruchel's Random Acts of Violence is a deeply confused film. The graphic novel it is based on — written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo and Paul Mounts — presents the reader with the kind of noir-adjacent work David Fincher might be interested in tackling, feeling especially in tune with Se7en. But the film quickly throws its tone out the window and shoots any semblance of structure in the back of the head.
The graphic novel follows comic book creators Ezra and Todd as they publish their first issue of a comic called Slasherman, only to find themselves confronted with bodies piling up on their book tour when they announce a "best kill idea" competition that is erroneously printed as "best kill." Though the comic doesn't have much to say about its characters and is sometimes predictable, it compels you to read on to see exactly what its title promises and how its two creators contrast and complement each other.
In adapting the comic, Baruchel and cowriter Jesse Chabot — who previously worked on 2017's Goon: Last of the Enforcers — turn this tale of two men confronting the horror they brought into the world into something entirely different. Todd (Jesse Williams) is the sole creator of Slasherman now, long into its publication history and awaiting a final issue, while Ezra (Baruchel) has been reduced to a bit player who owns a comic book store. Also along for the ride are Kathy (Jordana Brewster) and Aurora (Niamh Wilson) — Todd's girlfriend and assistant, respectively.
Though the four characters are tangibly linked by both their working and personal relationships with one another, no given pairing has any chemistry, and no character has any distinct characteristics. Brewster tries her best with the material she's given (which could have been an interesting contrast to the comic, in which her character exists only to be fridged). Williams, on the other hand, struggles with having absolutely no personality whatsoever, with the other two practically left for dead and not worth talking about.
If Baruchel was a dead presence as an actor, he's just as dead a writer and director. It's particularly odd to see him flounder so much here, considering that his comic sensibilities should translate well to the kind of silly, blood-heavy content a slasher could provide. But Random Acts of Violence has no idea what it wants to be.
For better or worse, the graphic novel itself was simple pulp storytelling: dead women, a vague mystery, and a relatively unpredictable and cynical approach to the murders. For some reason, the film desperately wants to attribute meaning to the pulp, making grandiose statements about the connection between violence and art that it has no interest in actually backing up. Characters half-assedly talk about the "purpose of art" and muse on how violence in art "pushes the unstable further into violence." They sound more like conservative pundits than folks trying to create a trashy horror comic.
The film's confused visual style exemplifies its muddled thesis, throwing in horrendously computer-animated sequences meant to imitate comic book panels and abysmally colored flashbacks to emphasize that violence is an endless cycle. The movie's kills are uninventive for a slasher, with some of the "sculptures" looking like a high schooler's attempt at re-creating NBC's Hannibal, and it lazily uses "trauma" as a buzzword in the same way many a modern horror film does.
"You have nothing to say. You fetishize violence. You legitimize evil," a character says with dead seriousness. If only Random Acts of Violence really did feel like it did any of those things. Instead, it's trying too hard to say something, it doesn't have much violence at all, and the only thing evil about it is how boring it is at under 90 minutes.
Perhaps Popcorn Frights' world premiere drive-in screening of Ten Minutes to Midnight that follows will be better than the feature that precedes it.
Random Acts of Violence. Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Niamh Wilson as Aurora, and Jay Baruchel. Directed by Jay Baruchel. Written by Jay Baruchel and Jesse Chabot. Not rated. 80 minutes. Premieres Friday, August 14, at Popcorn Frights Drive-In Horrorshow, 844 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; popcornfrights.com; streaming on Shudder starting Thursday, August 20.
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