The creator haunted by their own creation is a spicy genre that can get us watching theme park owners swallowed by mascots, and writers haunted by the ghosts at the end of their pen. With a spin on that classic tale, Shudder’s newest, Random Acts of Violence takes us through the journey of a comics artist facing the demon that is the real-life inspiration of his horrific work.
Hitting the road for a press tour, a comic creator and his business partner, assistant, and wife find themselves on a less and glamorous roadtrip through the area that inspired their comics. Todd (Jesse Williams) is struggling to find the right ending for his comic, Slasherman, based on real slayings in a small town. His wife, Kathy (Jordana Brewster), is along for the ride to collect information for her own project, a book about the victims of the killer on which the comic is based. After a less than warm welcome to the grieving town, slayings that mirror those in the comics begin terrorizing the residents and their visitors seemingly targeting Todd and begging for his attention. Spooked, the group tries to manage the terrifying events and messages from the killer before it goes too far.
The biggest achievement in Jay Baruchel’s first horror feature (he directed, and wrote alongside Jesse Chabot) is the scares. The slasher scenes are brutal and terrifying, and the staged kills could be seamlessly plopped into any Hannibal adaptation. The tone feels most like Joy Ride and is reminiscent of the slasher flicks of the early 2000’s that we rarely now see. But what it chooses to modernize is the themes, but fails to deliver on them.
The interesting take on the slasher road trip takes a lot of stabs without following through. Kathy is writing a book about the victims, and Todd is challenged by would be fans, all with the focus on the fact that his stories glorify male violence, ignore the victims, most of whom are women, and leaves them as the beautiful corpses in a story of a male protagonist who is a psycho killer. It dances with themes of horror movies inspiring violence (in a way Scream/ Scream 2 did exponentially more successfully years prior), gender norms and misogyny, and the glorification and ethics in the portrayal of violence in media. But these themes are never explored, and are left to die like the teens sewn into the Triptych. The closest we get to a conclusion of these ideas is a blurt of “I won’t scream for you,” somewhat reminiscent of Nancy Thompson refusing to be afraid of Freddy, or the brutalist of kills in Sin City, but it hits a bit too softly since we’ve no idea of the motive being reacted to by the victim. Todd struggles with facing artistic responsibility and his inability to conceptualize a perfect ending for his popular story, an otherwise compelling theme that doesn’t amount to much. Most unfortunate is that, without these grazes of deeper themes, the film would have stood up better on its own. Again, reminiscent of the time of Vacancy and its cohorts, it’s a successful scary movie that looks great.
The film is based on a comic of the same name, making it more of a meta tale adapted for screen. Honouring that medium, the film is beautiful and peppers in comic frames and uses drawings as plot points in various instances. Cinematographer, Karim Hussein (Hobo with a Shotgun/ Possessor) does excellent work here, playing with Dutch angles, shooting from high and low, and using colours, specifically red and green, throughout in a way that hints to larger film twists while making it feel like a painted comic book page.
The film is a fun slasher with some gorgeous kill tableaus that might make Hannibal blush, but leave him less than obsessed with the flat killer. The film tries to subvert horror tropes, but does a better job showcasing them than rising above them. This one will benefit from the summer release, landing on the same roads driven by those on trips to spooky motels that end in carnage, so it make it worth the spooky summer couch watch.
Random Acts of Violence arrives on VOD on July 31st, 2020 and will stream on Shudder August 20th, 2020.