thu 22/10/2020

Random Acts of Violence review - study in horror lacks scares | reviews, news & interviews

Random Acts of Violence review - study in horror lacks scares

Random Acts of Violence review - study in horror lacks scares

Jay Baruchel's horror is more likely to make you groan than shriek in fear

Jesse Williams faces off with his own creation

The debate about whether violent films cause violent acts has been around for decades.

The debate about whether violent films cause violent acts has been around for decades. From Mary Whitehouse’s puritanical crusade against films such as The Exorcist, to recent movies like Joker, pundits, columnists and even psychiatrists have wrangled over whether what we watch adversely influences our behaviour. And it’s often the horror genre that takes the brunt of the debate. 

Now actor-turned-director/screenwriter, Jay Baruchel wades in with his highly stylised slasher that seeks to unpick this complex problem. You might not expect the man who voiced Hiccup in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise to be the obvious candidate for exploring such material. But, Baruchel has spent nearly a decade trying to get the project off the ground.  

The film is based on the 2010 one-shot graphic novel by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, which Baruchel has adapted for the screen. Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) is a comic book writer who shot to fame after creating Slasherman, a series based on a real-life serial killer. At the beginning of the film Walkley is about to embark on a press tour to promote the final issue, along with his writer girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), business partner Ezra (Baruchel) and his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson). 

Aurora and Slasher Man (Niamh Wilson and Simon Northwood)

Leaving Canada behind them, they hit the road only to discover they are being stalked by a lone figure in a boiler suit and welding mask. Then the killing starts, with the mysterious figure replicating the twisted murders depicted in Walkley’s work. 

Scenes are interspersed with slick animated comic book panels that recount the origins of the killer, accompanied by a thumping score from Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson. The real world is all lurid neon and pitch blacks, like reality tilted on its edge. Suspense is maintained throughout, but it never becomes scary enough to be a real horror, despite the violence. 

From The Silence of the Lambs to Mindhunter many have explored the quasi-viral effect that serial killers inspire, spawning more gruesome mutations of perverted human behaviour. For all its merits, Baruchel’s film tries to grapple with this on a level it can’t quite handle. Overall, he argues that artists must take some responsibility for their work and for shifting the focus away from monster worship (every Halloween you’ll see some dressed as Freddie, Jason or Ghostface), towards the violent treatment of female victims. 

Baruchel however remains part of the problem he raises in his own film. The head eats the tail, the artist is shown to be as much of a monster as the killer, and both director and audience become complicit in their desire to be thrilled and horrified. 

@JosephDAWalsh

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