Film Review: ‘Random Acts of Violence’ Tests the Ties Between Artist, Their Art, and The Fans

The comic artist as center of the horror film is not a trope that is practiced often. Many of us are hard-pressed to name one film other than Jay Baruchel’s Random Acts of Violence that takes on the artist, his art and the fans that keep him going. However, it works in this film, despite having the striking Jesse Williams as the artist Todd. Although the film does get off to a slow start, it quickly recovers to become a thriller with a question that will gnaw at your brain long after the film is over. What is the creator’s responsibility when his art bears something horrific?

He Writes Comics?

Williams puts on a somber face that quickly draws us into suspending belief and going along with the possibility that Dr. Avery from Grey’s Anatomy could have an alternative life writing comic books. Todd is at the end of a story that made him famous with fans and the industry. His friend and publisher Ezra, played by co-writer and director Jay Baruchel, has made a lot of money off the books. Now, this last one deserves special treatment Todd’s stories are based on the grotesque history of a lonely highway in the middle of nowhere. For years, a serial killer patrolled the road, killing motorists and making flesh sculptures of their bodies. The killer stopped long ago, but Todd’s creation grew legs and a massive fandom, which we get to see at one point. They are as scary as the comics, but Todd welcomes them, hears their stories.

The trip is more than an homage to the killings. Todd is blocked. He and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is also his research partner want to see the area that he’s been writing about for so many years. Maybe the actual highway will jog Todd’s memory. If not anything else, it may give Ezra and the new intern Aurora (Niamh Wilson) some ideas on how to market the epic final book.

From the left: Jordana Brewster as Kathy, Jesse Williams as Todd, Jay Baruchel as Ezra, and Niamh Wilson as Aurora. Everyone is on a road trip that may not have a return date in ‘Random Acts of Violence.’

Trauma Never Stays Buried

Unfortunately, the people along the highway are not fond of Todd and his books. They are also still feeling the trauma of the murders, as they are yet unsolved. Kathy is probing for more stories, Ezra is looking for fans and new places to showcase his books, while Todd is walking around moping because he can’t get the plot right for his book. There’s something else, too. Todd is having nightmares and flashbacks. The road is awakening memories that were long buried and connecting snippets of a past that he never thought he would recover. The road, the murders, and Todd memories are on a dangerous collision course that ends and begins with the writer’s boyhood love of putting his emotions into his artwork.

Is This an Indictment of Art, the Artist or Fans?

Random Acts of Violence lays the ground for some very intense debates about the boundaries of art. Does calling something “art” grant it that distinction? And where does the creator come in. At one point, Todd figures out that certain crimes were created with inspiration from the books. Todd has one fan out there who hates to see all the good works end. So, he begins creating the flesh sculptures again, to get the attention of the writer and to help him find his art again. But is Todd responsible for any of this?

In a roundtable interview with Jay Baruchel and writer of the original comics Random Acts of Violence, Jimmy Palmiotti, Baruchel revealed what he and his team were thinking when they wrestled with this same question.

“I don’t know that the movie necessarily condemns anything except for Todd. Everyone in his immediate vicinity is put into harm’s way by his refusal to get his head out as arse, and he lets the writer’s block take hold of him. As a result, it takes hold of everyone around him.”

Baruchel goes on to explain, “we were trying our best to reflect the kind of infinite reflection of inspiration, which is like life and reality. Life and art are two mirrors pointed at each other reflecting back upon one another into infinity. Okay, but that doesn’t divorce responsibility from anybody.”

Jesse Williams, right, plays a surprisingly convincing comic writer named Todd who is facing all his demons on this trip, even the ones that could literally kill him.

According to the writer-director, Todd is not the killer and may not have known about the murders, but he is not completely void of any responsibility here. “So, we were kind of trying to articulate how even a completely justified thing like a therapeutic process, like art as therapy, is beneficial to the person going through the therapy. But once that art exists, it then can become something else to someone else entirely. You can’t say that the person who put it out there has no connective tissue to it whatsoever.” This is evident in the Random Acts of Violence and it’s gruesome ending.

A Cerebral Horror Event

The film will have audiences debating among themselves who is the artist and who takes responsibility for the murders by the end. There are a few scenes were the film ventures into campy horror chases (especially when Kathy encounters the killer for the first time). However, the thrills are there and so is the smart themes and classic horror imagery. The end credits are followed by the words, “real art is born of truth, everything else is Random Acts of Violence.” It’s strategically placed to make you question the conclusion you thought you knew, which leads to a rewind of the film and a run from the beginning. It may take a few watches to catch all the cues left throughout.

Random Acts of Violence is a horror film your brain won’t want to let go of. This imagery of Jesse Williams as a conflicted comic writer may taint your views of Jackson Avery (Grey’s Anatomy ) forever.

Rating 3.5 of 5

Check out the trailer.

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