Random Acts of Violence

Random Acts of Violence (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

There is an intriguing story buried in “Random Acts of Violence,” based on the graphic novel by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, but screenwriters Jay Baruchel (who directs) and Jesse Chabot seems to have injected more effort in delivering gruesome kills and how to make them as gory as possible instead of honing in on the protagonist’s childhood trauma and how that routed and elevated his career as a comic book artist. What results is a work that is frustrating to sit through because while it is able to reach a few inspired moments, particularly in delivering wicked images right before a murder, there is a glaring lack of compelling substance.

The comic book artist is named Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams) and he is on a road trip with his girlfriend (Jordana Brewster), publisher (Baruchel), and assistant (Niamh Wilson) from Toronto to New York City. Experiencing a drought of inspiration on how to end his long-running comic book series “Slasherman,” which is based on real-life murders on the I-90 from 1987 to 1991, he hopes that he can come up with something of value—a message or statement that his readers will find unforgettable—by the tour’s end. During their trip, however, bodies begin to pile up and the murders look eerily similar to killings illustrated on Todd’s R-rated comics. Clearly, this premise offers a wellspring of potential for further exploration. And playfulness.

But the final product leaves a lot to be desired. Notice the script’s lack of polish. For instance, when Todd and Kathy (Brewster) clash in regards to what they wish to accomplish using the Slasherman legend, there is a lack of conviction. The former leans on almost idolizing the figure. When challenged about what he wishes to communicate about his work’s level of violence, his reaction is to go on the defense. The latter, on the hand, strives to publish an independent work that focuses on the Slasherman’s victims. She feels that, in the comics, they are marginalized, treated as tools, then forgotten. When Todd and Kathy conflict, their disagreements lack maturity. The lines uttered come across whiny and amateurish—as if the duo hasn’t been in the business for years. This glaring lack of authenticity takes us out of the picture and so the drama is not believable. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the chemistry between Brewster and Williams, especially when they manage to hit the right notes of a scene.

The use of flashbacks becomes a distraction eventually. When adult Todd experiences extreme highs and lows of emotion, an image of young Todd (Isaiah Rockcliffe) bathed in reddish and purple colors is displayed on screen. It appears the boy is transfixed on something but we are not shown as to what until the end. These repetitive flashbacks hamper the momentum of increasing tension, especially when those whom Todd cares about find themselves in mortal danger. The better approach is to allow a scene play out in its entirety; giving the audience no moment of pause or breath. There is no suspense created when we are forced to stare at a child’s familiar expression during the middle of the action.

It fails to play upon a level of self-awareness that is innate in a plot like this. Although this might be an artistic choice, which I can accept, other elements alongside it—convincing character relationships, strong ear for dialogue, cogent statement(s) it wishes to get across about our relationship with violence, defined or blurred demarcation between fiction and real-life, an artist’s responsibility, if any, toward his work and his fans—do not function on a high enough level to create a substantive work worthy of examination and rumination. It seems content in introducing ideas and then disposing of them just as quickly or whenever convenient. I wished the screenplay had been given more time in the oven because it could have been a different beast entirely.

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