TORONTO — As a lifelong horror fan, Jay Baruchel used be “a pure escapist spectator.”
He says he’d watch a slasher flick like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th,” let it go through him, “and that was the sum total” of his thought about the carnage.
“And then I started asking myself, ‘What is my experience as a viewer in watching this (stuff), if I can name Freddy and Jason but I can’t name a single person either of them killed?'” the Montreal-raised actor-filmmaker said in a recent interview, using an expletive.
The debate about horror and true-crime projects glorifying killers and paying little attention to their victims is at the heart of Baruchel’s own serial killer slasher, “Random Acts of Violence.”
Baruchel directed the Hamilton-shot film, which is at some drive-ins and in select theatres across Canada Friday, and is available on digital and on-demand platforms.
He also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay with his “Goon” film collaborator and longtime friend Jesse Chabot, basing it on the comic of the same name by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
Jesse Williams stars as the author of a comic book series based on a serial killer who committed murders between 1987 and ’91.
To help him get over his writer’s block in writing the final chapter in “Slasherman” saga, he takes a road trip with friends to the town in which the actual murders happened.
Jordana Brewster co-stars as his wife, who is writing a book on the killer’s real-life victims to give them a voice, while Baruchel plays the comic’s publisher, and Niamh Wilson plays the assistant.
Baruchel said he and Chabot were first approached to adapt the comic about a decade ago and “it just became another limb” as they poured their intellects and hearts into the material.
“Like any small Canadian movie, it died a bunch of deaths before it finally came to life,” the investor in Chapterhouse Comics said from his home in Toronto.
Baruchel said they wanted to inspire audiences to examine their viewing habits when it comes to the portrayal of women in media, including horror films.
“It doesn’t mean stop. It doesn’t mean change. Just question.”
The film also raises questions about the responsibility the media has in portraying stories of murderers and their victims, and how violence is used in entertainment, such as video games.
Baruchel recalled hearing such a debate surrounding the Columbine High School massacre in ’99, the same year he and Chabot graduated from high school.
“I remember being really pissed off at how facile the debate around it was,” said the star of comedies including “Knocked Up” and “Tropic Thunder,” peppering his sentences with salty language.
“Basically on one side you had people saying, ‘Marilyn Manson and (the video game) Doom made these kids shoot up a … high school,’ which is an absolutely absurd point of view. But I think what is an equally absurd point of view, that was very much the rebuttal at that time, is that no one has any responsibility for what they put out in the world.
“And while I believe anybody can say anything — I do absolutely, and I believe every artist has carte blanche — I think that the minute you put something out into public, it’s connected to you and you have a responsibility. Now, to what degree? I don’t know.”
Baruchel said he’s isn’t judging the consumption of such media, noting popular true-crime series are “inherently a grey area” when it comes to profiling the killer over the victims.
“I grew up a true crime fan. I come by it, honestly, because my mother was, and it was always something she was interested in. And so I get the appeal,” Baruchel said.
“I’m also somebody that’s a history nerd and I’m deeply fascinated by the Third Reich. And my interest in the Third Reich doesn’t somehow mean I like the Third Reich. It just means … I’m utterly fascinated by it. But in fascination you can sometimes lose a bit of solemnity, you can sometimes forget that this is someone’s dad or mom or brother or sister or son or daughter, the best friend.”
The same goes for serial killers, he added.
“We can name them like they’re bloody rock stars, but name me three of the people John Wayne Gacy killed. Like, none of us can do that, and I don’t think that’s OK. Or at the very least it doesn’t sit well with me,” Baruchel said.
“I know Willy Pickton and I know his brother and all this different (stuff) but I can’t name the poor women whose lives ended at his … farm. So I try to work backwards from that and figure out why is that? And it seems to me to be a very male perspective, because you’re paying attention to the event as opposed to the experience. You’re being fascinated by the largesse and grandeur and how crazy this thing is, as opposed to being interested in what that would be like to suffer.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press