From the Archives: Random Acts of Violence brings Jay Baruchel’s infectious enthusiasm to the horror genre

From the Archives: Random Acts of Violence brings Jay Baruchel’s infectious enthusiasm to the horror genre

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a true crime fan is making peace with the fact that in order for it to exist, bad things must happen, oftentimes to completely innocent people. If you’re like me, the more awful and salacious the crime is, the more entertaining the piece of true crime media. Boiled down to this very basic set of preferences, it sounds like I should avoid the genre entirely. But given that, like anything else, there’s much more to the picture, I will press on, seeking out podcasts, documentaries, and re-enactments with the fervor of an FBI profiler, existing somewhere between “I’ve made peace with the truth of it all” and “I tell myself this in order to avoid feelings of complicity.”

Same goes for fictional horror. The best meta horror flicks force us to ask why it is that we seek carnage for entertainment, while the squares of the world clutch their pearls and blame media for perceived societal rot. While the current conversation regarding media’s influence on human behavior seems couched more in “loudly believing the opposite of whatever my political enemy thinks, no matter what” rather than actual concern for the betterment of society (still waiting on those Joker-inspired mass shootings), on paper it’s a conversation worth having.


Such is the lofty goal of Random Acts of Violence, the meta-ish slasher from writer/director/star of Undeclared, Jay Baruchel. Adapted with Jesse Chabot (Speed Racer) from a comic by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Giancarlo Caracuzzo, and Paul Mounts, Random Acts of Violence tells the tale of a doomed road trip embarked upon by an independent comic book creator and his friends/business associates. Jesse Williams plays Todd, the brains behind Slasherman, a comic book based on the “I-90 Killer,” a psychopath that violently murdered multiple people a few years back. He drives a foreboding van, wears a creepy welder’s mask, and loves placing the corpses of his victims into gruesome tableaus after mangling them in truly awful ways. It’s been years since his last kill, but Todd’s books are not trying to be factually accurate, instead acting as a sort of “continued adventures” of the murderer at large.

It’s getting to be time to wind down the series, but Todd is having trouble finishing it. He wants it all to end, but feels a bit irresponsible doing so without, as he says, “putting some medicine in the sugar.” He wants to say something meaningful with his work after making money from tragedy for so long. To do this, he and his significant other (Jordana Brewster), business partner (Jay Baruchel), and assistant (Niamh Wilson) hit the road seeking inspiration. They’ll do some press along the way, a few signing events, and if all goes to plan, the final book will be a thematically satisfying success.

But then people start dying in ways that fans of Slasherman will likely find familiar…


Thematically, there’s a ton of material about Todd reconciling the tragic sources of his artistic inspiration with his creative need to tell the stories he tells, and it’s all woven into what, at its core, is a really wicked slasher flick. The script smartly avoids Funny Games-esque direct inquiries into the “sick” mind of the horror hound (no love lost to Funny Games — love that shit), instead letting Todd be our emotional surrogate through which to explore such things. With his business partner egging him on to keep the book going so as to make more money, while his life partner wants to advocate for the I-90 Killer’s victims, the pressures heaped upon Todd to stick the landing are pretty high, and if you’re a creative type, pretty relatable.

Jay Baruchel proves himself to be quite the director. Mixing animation with surrealism, enclosed horror locales with sprawling set-pieces, his film has an incredible energy to it. Dutch angles, car-mounted camera work, smoky fog, blood spray, and even a series of Christmas-set flashbacks dripping with the imagery of the season. Baruchel is capital D directing and it’s downright infectious. Remember in Tropic Thunder when his character is scolded for rambling on and on about movies? Watching Random Acts of Violence I get the sense that his in-film enthusiasm is probably a pretty close approximation of his behind the camera enthusiasm. This feels like a movie that the filmmakers were insanely excited to make, and that energetic fire burns through the celluloid. It’s like watching a band that’s clearly having fun on stage.

While I’m still parsing out where the film lands on its thematic concerns, I don’t think it owes the audience an easy answer. Frankly, there is no easy answer that I can see. On the one hand, the weight of tragedy must not be forgotten in the name of entertainment. On the other, horror movies rock, and true crime is a genre as old as print itself (seriously, it goes back further than you’d ever expect). The fact that a frequently terrifying, gruesomely effective slasher can incorporate these concerns into its story is compelling as hell, and it gives Random Acts of Violence an individuality that many films of its type fail to muster.

One answer I would like to have is how the killer can see through a welder’s mask. I’ve worn one before, and unless you’re actively welding, it’s effectively a blindfold.

Whatever. Looks cool as hell.

Random Acts of Violence is now streaming on Shudder.

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