The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Modern horror is clickbait. If a horror film isn’t riddled with generic jumpscares, then it’s most likely pushing the envelope in all the wrong ways. It feels like it’s rare to come across a genuinely terrifying story anymore. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve lost my appreciation of the genre, or even that culture is dying. However, I am asking if there is a line between art and exploitation anymore? This is only one of the many questions Random Acts of Violence raises.
From both its opening animated motion comic and colorful title sequence to its beautifully bleak and abrupt ending, the film is shot like a gritty 1970’s era grindhouse film.
Despite being known for his comedic and more family friendly roles, actor Jay Baruchel directed, co-wrote, and co-stars in the film. While this isn’t his first stint behind the camera, it’s certainly his first foray into absolute horror. Because it’s done so masterfully though, you might not even be able to tell.
Having the opportunity to speak with Baruchel at a roundtable discussion about the film, I actually asked him what it was like taking the leap from comedy to horror and he said, “I’d argue that all of it’s the same...all of it’s an effort to hopefully be truthful, and to be truthful and as compelling a way as possible.”
And the film is very truthful in its commentary about the media, its relationship to violence, and just how many people can be exponentially affected by a single incident. While he’s used to putting smiles on audience’s faces, Baruchel also proves that he can make them gape in terror too. Behind Jordan Peele, this might be the most impressive genre jump I’ve seen in the past decade.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film revolves around comic book writer Todd Walkley, who’s famous for penning a comic about a real life serial killer known as Slasherman. Todd has just begun a cross country press tour with his wife, publisher, and assistant to promote the series’ final installment, but as they travel from city to city they notice a strange series of murders following them eerily similar to the murders in Todd’s books.
Now, having not read the source material prior to watching the film, I can’t speak about how similar or different it may be, but I can say that it’s an excellent horror film. It’s a very straight forward movie with some genuinely terrifying moments and a really natural progression. These acts of violence are nowhere near as “random” as they seem, and as the story unfolds a grizzly truth is uncovered.
As I mentioned before, most horror films nowadays rely on the blood, gore, and jumpscares to capture an audience, but here the one thing that keeps you most invested are the characters - including some that aren’t even alive.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Jesse Williams plays the film’s protagonist, Todd. Having only seen him as a semi-lead in one other horror film, Cabin In The Woods, I must say that I was impressed. He’s not the average leading man you’d expect to see in a horror film. For example, he’s very emotional and non-confrontational, yet he’s still got a lot of heart. Towards the end, there’s a moment where he finds himself literally tied up, waiting to die. However, he refuses to give up. He may be out of options, but he’s still thinking. That ties in to the kind of writer he is. Throughout the film, Todd makes it known that he’s struggling with how to end the Slasherman saga, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to do it. He just has no idea how. There’s also this burden he’s clearly carrying throughout the film that doesn’t become entirely clear until the third act, but when it does become clear it creates an even deeper understanding of who he is. It’s one of the best and most layered performances I’ve seen in a horror film in a while. The way Williams balances Todd’s complexity just makes me want to see him lead more projects in the future.
Jordana Brewster plays Todd’s wife, Kathy, and delivers a performance on par with Williams’; however, hers is my favorite. She, like Todd, is a writer. Unlike him though, she’s more focused on Slasherman’s victims. By reminding him that no killer deserves a legacy, not only does she create this consistent conflict for Todd, she provides a voice for a universal truth that exists beyond the film: no single murder ever only has one victim. Being the constant voice of reason that she is, one could argue that she’s just as much of an antagonist to Todd as Slasherman. But with such good intentions, it’s probably better to say that Todd is the film’s real antagonist. He wants to keep the legacy of Slasherman alive, and - as a result - keep the victims buried forever.
For such a large presence in the film, Kathy doesn’t play nearly as big a role as in the source material. When asked about her expanded arc in the film, Baruchel also said at the roundtable that the goal was for, “her to have as much to do as she could…and then we kinda realized that [the audience] is on Todd’s journey, but she’s the one who faces all the consequences. The cost is, in large part, hers.” Baruchel added that while it became natural that Kathy’s character would grow, he wanted to explore a character, “who would never be the number one priority so long as [their loved one] is prey to [their] creativity.”
Now, with Baruchel’s involvement in this film, you’d think that he wouldn’t have time to appear in it, yet he does. He plays the film’s third lead, Ezra. In addition to being the publisher for Todd’s comic book, he’s also his best friend. His performance isn’t awful in this, but he just doesn’t really do much for the plot or the story. Baruchel does get some bonus points though for totally Tarantino-ing himself - seriously, his death is fantastic. Personally though, I would've liked to see more of Todd’s assistant, played by Niamh Wilson. Being obsessed with drawing horrific things, there seemed to be a lot more to her character.
Slasherman, himself, is also a bit underwhelming. Truthfully, despite the fact that he likes to kill, there isn’t much more we find out about him. He gets little to no backstory, but you can also take his lack of character development as the idea that evil exists in this world without justification. Now, I doubt he’ll ever attain the cult status of Freddy Kreuger or Jason Voorhees - maybe not even of Victor Crowley - but he still kind of grows on you.
...a gritty 1970’s era grindhouse film.
Random Acts of Violence (2020) | SHUDDER
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Most of the effects were practical, and I really enjoyed them. The blood, the makeup, and the body doubles - everything really worked well and looked great. I’m especially willing to bet that anybody who watches this film won’t ever want to hear the word “triptych” again.
I also really liked the film’s design. Not just the horror set pieces, but all of the set design. One thing I especially appreciated was just how hazy the whole story feels in relation to time. What I mean by that is we know that it’s set in the present day. While plenty of modern technology appears thoughout we don’t get many indicators of the exact year. It all feels like a dream - or in this case, a nightmare.
The film’s oversaturated green and red color palette also enhances this idea, while simultaneously foreshadowing the film’s incidental twist.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon MacPherson’s score admittedly was one of the film’s most generic parts. It was also admittedly one of my least favorite aspects, yet it still does a fantastic job of maintaining that gritty grindhouse aesthetic I mentioned before.
On the other hand, the sound design was much more integral to the story. This was one horror film where sound - and even the lack thereof - helped to elevate certain moments. One of my favorite kills of the film involves both the lack of sound and light. In one perfectly timed moment, one of our characters meets a swift demise. Because we don’t hear it or see it coming, it’s all the more impactful.
There’s nothing scarier than a film that’s so relevant. Many of today’s horror films are the products of, “What if?” What if an evil demon clown fed on children? What if a doll took on a life of its own? What if a seance happened over a Zoom call? While it may raise some questions of its own, Random Acts of Violence is still more interested in a solution because there is no such thing as a random act and no problem can ever be solved until the cycle is broken.