Interview: Jay Baruchel on Random Acts of Violence

Jay Baruchel on set of Random Acts of Violence
Jay Baruchel on set of Random Acts of Violence
Jay Baruchel on set of Random Acts of Violence

The horror film Random Acts of Violence, opening in select theatres and on-demand on Friday, July 31, 2020, is the sophomore directorial effort from actor and co-writer Jay Baruchel. Born in Ottawa and raised in Montreal, Baruchel is best known for acting in films such as The Trotsky, This is the End, and as the voice of hiccup in the How to Train Your Dragon series. Jay Baruchel also co-wrote and appeared in the 2011 hockey comedy Goon and made his directorial debut with the film’s 2017 sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the latter of which was co-written by Jesse Chabot, who also collaborates with Baruchel on Random Acts of Violence.

During a conference call to promote the film, Baruchel describes the create process for Random Acts of Violence, which has a development period of about 7 years. “Every year that the movie didn’t happen we go back to the document, opened the hood up and be like ‘Okay what can we make this better and how can we make it better’,” says Baruchel about his collaborations with Jesse Chabot, who he has been friends with since high school. “When we started writing this thing, our intellects were commensurate with our age and in sort of time passing, we evolve and ideally that document should have all along with us.”

A still from Random Acts of Violence

Even though he is best known as a comic actor, Jay Baruchel describes himself as a lifelong fan of the horror genre, which be believes has grown a bit stagnant in recent years. “Rare is a horror film that is a good movie and actually scares me,” says Baruchel. “I just also kind of developed a bit of a personal distaste for this kind of idea of what a horror film had to be. It’s basically like 10-15 years ago a bunch of sort of investors realized that they could put a little money into something that would make them a bunch. And then all of a sudden we had this whole rash of contained genre films which are very transparent in why they were created and I just sort of like for me it’s an art form that is terribly important to me and I cannot separate my love of cinema from my love of horror movies.”

One of the major themes of Random Acts of Violence is the fine line between horror as an art form and “fetishizing evil” and it was one of Baruchel’s goals to have the violence of the film feel shocking, yet no exploitative, with him mentioning the 2010 Quebecois movie 7 Days as an example. “That movie is really harsh. It’s just one guy torturing another guy in a room basically,” says Baruchel on the film. “But never once does it feel cheap or false and never once does it feel like a love letter to violence.” In fact, Random Acts of Violence ends up taking a self-reflexive approach, as it comments on the harsh criticism often made about the horror genre. “It’s an inherently kind of relative experience as an audience member consuming work of art, but also I was trying my best to show every bad thing that can come from it,” said Baruchel. “It’s more about this idea that one can divorce oneself from responsibility for anything one puts out for the world, which I think is as absurd as the concept that videogames and comics make people kill people.”

Jesse Williams and Jay Baruchel in a scene from Random Acts of Violence

Jay Baruchel’s about divorcing responsibility are in specific reference to Random Acts of Violence‘s protagonist of Todd Walkley, played by Jesse Williams, who comes under fire when a serial killer begins copying murders from his comic book “Slasherman.” “Todd has made a Faustian bargain and even if he thinks he’s ultimately that his book is victimized by critics he’s still part of him as a rational man has to agree with at least part of what they’re saying,” says Baruchel. “He knows ultimately that even if he believes his work has more merit than people seem to believe it does, he knows ultimately what it will come across in the cold light of day.”

The casting of Williams and Jordana Brewster, who both had previous horror credits with The Cabin in the Woods and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning respectively, ended up being a happy accident for Baruchel, who was just looking for the perfect actors for the film. “I was lucky enough to get some really good conversations with some really good actors but the only time that the light bulbs went off for me was in chatting with Jesse and Jordana,” says Baruchel on the casting process. “It was about three to four minutes into a conversation with each of them that it was apparent to me that I had finally after the better part of a decade found my Todd and Kathy.”

Despite the casting of American leads of the film, Jay Baruchel remained committed to shooting Random Acts of Violence, because of what he described as an obligation to English Canadian cinema. “I want to know that for better or worse I contributed to the cinematic language of my country and I want to know that I added something to our kind of cultural tapestry,” says Baruchel about shooting the film in Canada. “It would be more convenient I think for me to have gone elsewhere potentially. But I know that at the end of the day even if I got to create some really special stuff I would have contributed to another country’s culture.”

Random Acts of Violence opens today in select cinemas and on VOD.