Over the course of its existence thus far, Shudder, AMC’s horror streaming service, has grown into a fascinating (if sometimes inconsistent) platform for original content. Shudder offers a wide spectrum of international and indie horror that usually wouldn’t get a traditional release, as well as festival favorites or weird experimental projects that viewers might otherwise struggle to find.
Take, for example, Random Acts of Violence, out this Friday. Jay Baruchel’s film features a notable name behind the camera, and recognizable stars (including Baruchel himself) in the main roles. In terms of content, however, it feels unlikely that you’d see this movie in a theatrical release – even in normal circumstances – or distributed by a mainstream outlet like Netflix or Amazon. Random Acts of Violence is a surreal film, often quite messy but capable of reaching impressive heights of Grand Guignol that hardcore genre fans can appreciate. The film may have been made for Shudder, but you could easily argue that Shudder was made for this movie, and others like it.
Based on Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s graphic novel of the same name, Random Acts of Violence follows a comic book creator, Todd (Jesse Williams), preparing to end his popular series, “Slasherman.” Todd’s comic stars a serial killer, and is based on a series of killings that, in the film, took place along I-90 in upstate New York. Todd hopes a book tour with his business partner Ezra (Baruchel), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster) will help him break his writer’s block and figure out how to give his antihero an appropriate ending.
As Todd and his crew kick off the tour, however, they’re dogged by a terrifying series of violent murders that resemble killings from Slasherman. As the unknown killer starts offing people close to him, Todd has to reconcile the violent legacy of his creation, and dig into some dark, long-repressed memories in his own past.
Random Acts of Violence deserves some credit for its stylized visuals, even if parts of the film feels shaggy and underdeveloped. Much of the dialogue feels improvised and manic, especially the kill scenes. These moments frequently feature such obnoxious victims that you wish the killer would just show up and take the characters out already. Eventually, that style starts to cross over into the main characters’ interactions, with every scene feeling like an excuse to loudly fight or freak out rather than have an actual conversation.
In its climactic moments, however, those visuals – hinted at in small doses earlier in the film – take center stage, and Random Acts of Violence finally becomes the artfully nasty low-budget gorefest it wants to be. Baruchel and Hobo with a Shotgun cinematographer Karim Hussain give us dreamlike flashbacks and current-day murder tableaux awash in garish neon red and sickly yellow, as the film switches between Todd’s increasingly disturbed headspace, and the killer’s already twisted mind. These moments are impressive enough to make Random Acts of Violence worth the watch, satisfyingly creative for viewers in search of unique-looking horror, and gnarly enough for those who want good old fashioned blood and guts.
Random Acts of Violence isn’t the cleanest or cleverest of horror movies, but it displays a grindhouse ambition that’s worth paying attention to. Whatever else Baruchel may need to work on as a filmmaker, his eye and his clear love for the genre display real potential. This is the kind of movie that wouldn’t really get much play outside of genre festivals. It’s right at home, however, on a niche streaming service like Shudder, where viewers can properly appreciate its freaky qualities – in spite of its definite shortcomings.
“Random Acts of Violence” is now streaming on Shudder.