Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I Am He That Liveth, And Was Dead: Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Random Acts of Violence (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel 

For a long time, indie comic artist Todd Walker (Jesse Williams) has been making a decent living off his series Slasherman, which chronicles the savagery committed by a welding masked maniac, based on the (in-universe) real life serial killings of six that took place between the late 80s to the early 90s. This success, however, isn't doing much for Todd anymore as he's starting to find the work too much for his mind to bear any further, thus he plans to end the series with one last issue, given he gets past his own case of writer's block. 

In hopes of helping Walker find a strong finale for Slasherman's story, friend and publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel, who also directed and a part of the writers of this movie) comes up with the idea of holding a press tour in the very town where the murders took place, a controversially bold move that may inspire the struggling artist to dish out one more carnal book to end all carnal books. Tagging along is Todd’s aspiring artist assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and Todd’s writer girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is doing a book about the real life Slasherman’s victims, all of them unaware that the trip's bound for the worst when someone who's obsessed over Slasherman comics starts enacting a killing spree around the same town, inspired by the books' violence.

Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same title by Image Comics, Random Acts of Violence tackles the old arguments of violence in media and exploiting real world horrors for entertainment, which would have been a relevant and insightful topic for a slasher movie to grasp, if only it knows what grounds of the criticism it'll focus on or, at least, build around a fair and strong argument concerning the thoughts. For a good while, the writing and direction of Violence offer scenes of Williams' character being put under fire for creating such violent comics in understandable concern, countered by Walker sharing his own beliefs that media is not always responsible for the creation of sickos, that art is just art and what society’s vile deviants do with it is their own doing. These are again very compelling debates, but by the time we hit the hour mark, the movie shifts its gears to regular exploitation bloodlettings many slashers are known for, ditching the all the argumentative build-up for something cliched, littered with one big plot hole (so big it's kinda amazing) and, yes, chunky red violence. 

Perhaps that's the main idea of the whole movie, that whichever side of the coin you stand on, you will eventually see its shade of imperfections once it's flipped against you. That behind every sense of order and control is raw chaos that inspires it. Whether this is the case or not completely falls into the audience's perspective, but one thing is certain and that's the straight horror elements of Violence are mostly top notch.

There's an atmosphere of near-realism in this movie's early dose of killings, with set-pieces intensely building up to murders that interestingly doesn't shower the movie with much onscreen bodycounting despite the decent number of victims and how brutal they can get. Among the slayings are bloody stabbings, beheadings, eviscarations and, most disturbing of them all, a family massacre, all of which executed in a manner that disparagingly implies their graphic nature without mostly glorify it, leaving us viewers nothing but our imagination to fill in the gaps as the screen cuts to black, or we see our protagonists' faces twist in terror. Tinted lighting and sound design also play a pretty big role in the film's horror scenes and Violence's giallo-inspired cinematography and editing got it covered on that department well enough, especially around the plot's first trio of murders and its artsy climactic reveal.

On note to the movie's twist, Violence, again, drops off the semi-serious tone in time and appears to cheapen its way into the finale by basically pulling a Happy Birthday To Me (1981) - style revelation on us, complete with victims' bodies arranged into sitting on chairs while the villain gives their delusional expositions as to why they're doing this, hammering down the details so we'd definitely understand their point. Admittedly, it is a fun reveal and in par to all the other ridiculously cheesy slasher motivations, dare I say it's pretty unique in the sense the killer's willing to die for the sake of what they believe is the ultimate fanboy move. This may sound like the killer stepping down from a creepily random Bible verse-spewing psycho to a serial killer with a comic book obsession but, by all means, it's not all the way bad. The talent behind the killer even pulls it off quite effectively.

It's clear as crystal that Jay Baruchel wrote and directed Random Acts of Violence as a possible in-depth look into horror media and its relationship with real life tragedies as both an influence and the influenced, doubled as a slasher movie of the partial-meta kind. Should the story kept its focus more on the psychological and ethical aspects touched by the plot, I'm sure Violence would have been an entirely different monster to be reckoned with. But for what it is right now, it's not gonna win every horror fan out there, but I'm sure there are an appreciative bunch out there who will love it for the thrills, the spills and the chills.

1 male knifed to death, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female had her neck snapped, later found decapitated
1 male shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 female shot dead
1 boy shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 male shot on the head with an automatic rifle
1 female hacked on the head with a carving knife, gutted (flashback)
1 female found gutted
1 male repeatedly stabbed with a hunting knife, throat cut
1 male burned to death inside a blazing house
Total: 12

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