#REVIEW: “RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Todd (Jesse Williams) is famous for creating the viciously-violent “Slasherman” Comic Book series. Fueled by the Books’ popularity, he embarks on a signing tour with his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster), his friend and Publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) and his Assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson). As bodies start piling up as the group drive from stop to stop, they discover rather quickly that someone may be using Todd’s books for inspiration.
When I think of Baruchel, I think of Comedy and the many wholesome but profane characters he has played in the past (and of course, Popular Mechanics for Kids). His directorial debut, 2017’s Goon: Last of the Enforcers was violent but mostly just fun and entertaining. And that is why Random Acts of Violence, his second go-around in the Director’s chair, is such an eclectic and stark contrast to practically everything he has worked on before. The Film is grimy and filthy, punctuated by periods of downright brutal violence. It feels very much as if it belongs alongside those ’70s Thrillers he judiciously cribs from, highlighted by its reds and oranges (and in many cases here, greens). He even gets a chance to embrace his inner David Cronenberg with some Body Horror, which is just as twisted as you might imagine. The visual motifs and look of the Film are easily the highlights, and they show in how he has grown as a Filmmaker.
I think the problem for me with Random Acts of Violence – besides Williams’ commanding lead performance walking circles around a Supporting Cast with so little to do – is that it never seems confident enough in knowing what it wants to say. The central theme of the Film revolves around the cycle of violence and how people deal with the trauma that stems from it. That sentence is a lot to process and unpack on its own. In a film with an 80-minute running time, I am not sure Baruchel has nearly enough time to cover all the bases, especially when he wants it to act as a gritty Grindhouse Thriller at the same time. He can balance the thrills with the Film’s psychological underpinnings in some instances, but in others, their clashing together comes off as jarring and bizarre. He might be paying proper homage to the source material with his ultra stylish flourishes, but if he wants to ask questions about the long term effects of violence, then why is he not taking any time to answer any of them? Why does his Script, written with Writing Partner Jesse Chabot, end so inexplicably just as it feels like it is finally coming around to saying something truly profound?
As I write this, I am still not quite sure what to make of Random Acts of Violence. On one hand, the Film is a thought-provoking Thriller with some good set pieces and a style that does its ’70s era influences proud. But on the other, it seems to ask challenging questions that it does not know how to answer. It wants to make a statement about the impact of violence, but lacks the proper tools to make it stick. Still, even with its flaws, this is a hell of a sophomore effort from Baruchel. I look forward to whatever he takes a stab at next.
Elevation Pictures release RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE in theatres and On-Demand on Friday, July 31, 2020.