Released: 20th August
Seen: 7th September
One of the longest held ideas that people have around violent media is the idea that violent media, be it film or video games, has the power to inspire real world violence in those who partake in it. No matter how many studies say “Yeah, that’s not a thing” (and there are so many studies that completely debunk this notion of violent media inspiring real world violence), people will look at random acts of violence and associate them with some film that has a similar act. A lot of Horror films get blamed for either actually inspiring violence or potentially inspiring violence and sometimes the genre wants to comment on that. In this case a film called Random Acts of Violence would really like to talk about the relationship between art and real world violence and I’d like to say it does a good job at that, as a commentary it’s just so-so but as a violent horror film, it’s kind of fun.
Random Acts of Violence follows a roving group of four young adults. Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) is the writer of a comic book called Slasherman who is going on a cross country book signing tour. Kathy (Jordana Brewster) is his girlfriend who is helping him on his trip. Aurora (Niamh Wilson) is Todd’s assistant who is there to make sure the tour goes without a hitch. Lastly, there’s Ezra (Jay Baruchel) who is Todd’s friend and a comic shop owner who is helping out. On their tour they soon come across a grisly murder that looks kinda like one of the murders in Todd’s comics. Oh no, someone might be copying methods of murder that they saw in a comic book and now not only are our main 4 in danger but everyone is blaming them for the actions of another person.
From the opening shot, Random Acts of Violence is genuinely stunning to look at. I’m a sucker for a horror film that’s willing to play with bold high contrast colours and unnatural lighting and this film does that, covering the screen with emerald greens and piss yellow that gets broken up by the occasional dark red lighting. There’s only a few shots where there’s anything resembling natural real world lighting and that intense visual style really works well with the over-the-top nature of some of the violence. Note I say some, the film has got a decent idea of how to go over the top on some of the violent scenes the main set piece of three people sewn together on the side of a road is a particularly shocking moment and other times will just settle for a gun being fired into a car (because, ya know, I’m here watching a film with a comic called SLASHERman so I clearly want to see people being shot).
Random Acts of Violence tries to say something about the genre, by the directors own admission he wanted to try and take on the genre itself… problem is, while it’s critiquing the idea of real world violence inspiring the movies (an idea it basically spells out when one character explodes in anger over glorifying a killer and ignoring his victims) the film can’t seem to condemn the idea, it just addresses it as happening. This notion of “Do we spend more time glorifying the villains than the victims” is a huge topic of discourse, it happened last year around the time that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile came out and brought with it all the hot takes about how we glorify villains and ignore the victims and this film critiques that… by basically ignoring the victims AND the villain?
The villain of this film is a very generic slasher villain who isn’t really given a name, he just walked around in all black wearing a welders mask and he’s shown to have some connection to Todd but we never learn anything about him, he’s there to do the killings and that’s about it. The fact we learn so little about him doesn’t help with the core notion of glorifying villains, he has nothing unique about him. A lot of good horror villains have something about them, Jason has his machete, Freddy has his claws, My Bloody Valentine guy has a pickaxe but Random Acts of Violence’s villain is just not unique enough to stand out among others like him. This’d be a bad enough problem to have if it was just another slasher film trying to create a memorable villain they can lean on but for a film that’s also trying to make a point? It just really doesn’t work.
Honestly the attempt at a message really brings this film down, when it’s just being a bold brash colourful throwback to slasher films it’s genuinely fun and inventive and I actually quite liked it. I like it’s blend of classic genre tropes and the use of practical effects for the titular random acts of violence, when the film just went for broke it was fun but when characters had to stop to try the whole “You’re just as responsible as the killer because you made his story famous” thing it just doesn’t work, this isn’t the film to try to send that message across.
Random Acts of Violence is certainly a fair bit of fun in large parts and has some serious 80s horror vibes going that make it a good watch, it just thinks it’s being really smart and subversive about a topic it barely seems to understand. Elements of this film really work, but there’s enough that doesn’t quite hit the mark that it can only ever just be a good movie when it can probably see greatness within its grasp.