Random Acts of Violence

★★★1/2

I’ve always been a bit of a Jay Baruchel fan. I dug him on Judd Apatow’s Fox series “Undeclared.” I felt for him when he was getting his ass whooped by Anthony Mackie in “Million Dollar Baby.” He was funny and relatable in “Knocked Up,” “She’s Out of My League” and “This Is the End.” I enjoyed “Goon,” which he co-wrote and co-starred in. I enjoyed to a lesser extent “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” with which he made his feature directorial debut in addition to co-starring and co-writing. This brings us to “Random Acts of Violence,” now streaming on Shudder, Baruchel’s sophomore directorial effort.

“RAoV” concerns Todd (Jesse Williams), a writer who’s made his bones crafting a comic book based around real-life serial killer Slasherman (Simon Northwood). Together with his girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster), his publisher, Ezra (Baruchel), and his assistant, Aurora (Niamh Wilson), the quartet return to the scene of the crimes in order to give Todd inspiration for the final issue of the book’s run. Upon their arrival, bodies begin piling up.

Williams isn’t an actor I’m especially familiar with. I know him primarily from “The Cabin in the Woods” … and for kinda looking like Derek Jeter. He did good work there … as he does here. He’s probably too cool and too good-looking to pull off being this nebbish, but he surprisingly makes it sing.

Brewster is an actress I’ve never been especially fond of despite having liked many of her movies, i.e. “The Faculty” and “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. I’ve always kinda thought of her as “Baby Ali MacGraw” due to her resemblance to the “Love Story” and “The Getaway” actress. Brewster does some of the best work of her career here. (Shallow Dude Alert: I also tend to find her much more attractive in glasses for whatever that’s worth.) The way in which her character eschews fear shows courage and makes a monologue she’s given especially powerful. (Props also to Baruchel and his co-writer Jesse Chabot (with whom he collaborated on “Last of the Enforcers”) for giving Brewster dialogue this juicy to sink her teeth into.)

Baruchel and Wilson aren’t given nearly as much to do as Williams and Brewster, but they acquit themselves well enough.

“RAoV” was produced by famed writer and inker Jimmy Palmiotti and is based off his 2010 comic of the same name. The picture does occasionally falter in its adherence to comic book stylings. Some of the cell-shaded animations employed echo Nintendo GameCube games of almost 20 years ago more than they do graphic novels.

I’m sure Baruchel had a limited budget and he does hit some stumbling blocks as a result of this. For instance, the dummy that’s supposed to be the carcass of one our primary characters reappears late in the flick and it’s laughably bad. That said there’s a tableau of multiple victims that’s shot and depicted in such a way that it’s insanely effective. Moments such as this make me think Baruchel has a real future ahead of him as a horror director. For the most part, the kills are staged and shot for maximum impact.

I liked “RAoV” a good deal. It’s an effective and affecting horror-thriller. I’m not sure I’d want to see the picture again as it’s brutally violent and somewhat emotionally draining, but its tale is told compellingly enough in a brisk 80 minutes.

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