A Fantastic Fest 2019 Review
Random Acts of Violence is a little deeper than its name suggests, but just as violent. Based on the 2010 comic book of the same name, the film comes to us from director Jay Baruchel, who also stars in and co-wrote the flick, and offers an interesting (if not wholly original) take on the age-old argument that violent media promotes real-world violence.
The film follows Todd (Jesse Williams), a comic book creator whose popular series Slasherman was inspired by a string of unsolved slayings. To promote the final issue, Todd embarks on a press tour with his publisher Ezra (Baruchel), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), and girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who happens to be writing a book focusing on the victims of the same unknown killer that inspired Todd. But even as he struggles to come up with a satisfying ending, Todd begins to notice disturbing similarities between his work and a new series of killings that started up as soon as he hit the road.
On some levels, Random Acts of Violence is a story we’ve seen before, and done better. The artist whose work seemingly comes to life in horrifying ways is not a new concept by any means; nor is the idea that, viewed through a certain lens, violence can be a form of art. There are shades of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal here, with one particular murder scene looking so reminiscent of an episode of the show that you half expect Will Graham to be lurking just off screen. What makes the film different, though, is the cyclical nature of its violence, and the decisions its central characters make to either perpetuate or break that cycle.
While the philosophical questions at the heart of the film are interesting, the script struggles to reconcile some while leaving others frustratingly under-explored. Take Kathy’s book: though she’s telling the stories of the victims, the book is nonetheless still a product to be bought and consumed, so can she truly take the moral high ground? There’s also a lack of nuance in the presentation of the Slasherman’s fans, with only one—a creepy man who obsesses over Todd’s work and creates miniature recreations of the kills—getting any real screentime.
Are viewers supposed to see themselves in this fan who continues the cycle of violence through his patronage and art? And, if so, are we monsters for enjoying the film?
Perhaps that’s the question Baruchel wants to leave us chewing over—or maybe the film just has an identity crisis. Either way, it’s a discomforting, if not entirely successful movie, and combined with the stylish lighting and impressive gore, it will hold you attention even while pushing you away.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)