After waiting nearly 10 years for the right set of circumstances, actor Jay Baruchel (This Is The End, Goon) can now tick off something that’s been sat atop his bucket list since he first came to Hollywood in the early noughties: write and direct a horror movie.
Released this week, Random Acts of Violence is a thinking man’s slasher film. It follows struggling comic book writer Todd, who embarks on a road trip from Toronto to NYC Comic Con with his wife, assistant and best friend. On the way, a crazed fan starts using Todd’s Slasherman comic as inspiration for a spree of killings which force him to take “artistic responsibility” for the violence he uses in his work.
Intent on making a gruesome, entertaining slasher – defined as a horror film depicting a series of violent murders by an attacker armed with a knife, e.g. Halloween or Friday The 13th – the Canadian all-rounder was also keen to ask some philosophical questions too. Now that he’s a bona fide expert in the genre, we asked Baruchel for his five-step guide to making the ultimate slasher movie.
Step one: come up with a complex killer
“When we set out to make a scary movie, t was all about trying to build the hardest, scariest thing that we could. Something that is as scary as a psychopath running around killing people is you not knowing exactly [who they are]. I don’t want them to be scared of themselves, but I definitely don’t want them to be comfortable.”
A film that did this well: Se7en (1995)
“There’s a reason why Se7en means what Se7en means. It’s not for me to say that my movie is as good as that – that’s not some thing that I’d even touch on – but in trying to make the best slasher we could, complicating it was part of that.”
Step two: get the gore level just right
“One of the things that French extremism cinema got really right is the [realistic] violence. The gore was less about the outlandish, crazy and fantastic, it was all about being anatomically correct. As a result, it was way, way fucking harsher.”
A film that did this well: Irreversible (2002)
“This was a profound influence on me. It definitely spoke to me about how I wanted to articulate the violence on the screen.”
Step three: write strong characters and cast well
“In Random Acts of Violence, everything was about knowing that, at the end of the day, the leading married couple were both honest and defending their viewpoints with the fullness of their characters. I was lucky enough to find two actors (Jesse Williams and Jordana Brewster) who were well up for the debate [around the impact of violence in art on society]. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is an argument between them in a hotel room, which is just the purest version of the on-screen/ off-screen violence debate. That was all ad-libbed.”
A film that did this well: 7 Days (2010)
“If anyone else had made that movie it would have been torture porn. It’s about a guy torturing a dude for seven days. But it is as important a meditation on revenge as I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s like a deconstructed revenge flick.”
Step four: make the audience think
“There has to be a cumulative effect. For Random Acts of Violence, I tried to unpack why I was drawn to the stuff that I was interested in. I was struck by something in particular: as a horror fan, how come I can name a bunch of killers but can’t name a single person that they fucking offed? I hope this movie at least triggers a bit of self-reflection.”
A film that did this well: Seven Days again
“This movie makes you feel what it’s like to be in a room with the [bad guy] for two fucking hours – and it’s deeply unpleasant.”
Step five: it has to be scary
“The only thing that you really need to succeed at is to be scary. If your movie isn’t scary and it’s a horror movie, as good as it might be I’d consider it something of a failure if it doesn’t fucking scare you. In an effort to achieve that, we wanted to take all fun out of our kills. We wanted to bury the choreography. We didn’t want the audience to feel that they were in a set-piece. We wanted to articulate, as best we could, how harsh it would actually be in practice. I didn’t want a kill in my movie where someone high fives the guy next to him in the movie theatre. I wanted to create kills that will leave people saying: ‘I think I need to meet you in the lobby because this is too uncomfortable for me.'”
A film that did this well: Street fight videos on YouTube
“We wanted the violence to be clumsy and sad and slow and intimate and uncomfortable. Violence in reality is typically not operatic – it’s dirtier.”