Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich
A movie with a cool title that really means nothing.
2014’s Nightcrawler was ace. Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal together delivered a tough, exhilarating thriller and now they’re back in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw – a not-quite horror movie which in reality is a massive satirical look at the art world and the people who move within it. Despite some very decent recent offerings, Netflix movies still carry a stigma even though many carry such great casts and Velvet Buzzsaw is another example. Joining Gyllenhaal is Toni Collette, Rene Russo, John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs – AKA a bunch of talent.
A great cast doesn’t always equate to a great movie, however, and Velvet Buzzsaw is again an example of this. The premise is intriguing and great - an unknown artist's paintings have been found in a deceased man’s apartment and the greedy, art-struck folks who attempt to cash in find themselves on the receiving end of a supernatural entity that seemingly possesses the artworks and is out for revenge. Thinking that out loud makes it sound like a Goosebumps novel, it’s deeper than that (though I loved me those books as a nipper) and the strange pseudo-Final Destination vibe the trailer gave off only fed my intrigue. The movie itself, though, falls too far foul of satire to be completely enjoyable and the horror aspects are minimal, despite being the most interesting parts of Velvet Buzzsaw. The idea that individual ‘value’ is defined by others dribbles across every scene and the vacuous nature of the scene becomes nauseating too quickly – whether that was the point or not. It’s a movie where everyone quaffs Starbucks – the types to drink mocha-choca-soya-skinny-lattechinos-warm the milk slightly-and sprinkle liberally with lima beans – wears mannequin display outfits and craving external validation is key. Yawn. Add to that some dialogue that is so on the nose that Pinocchio would struggle with it and the satirical beating you take becomes too much.
Jake Gyllenhaal is great in the lead role of Morf Vandewalt, an art critic adored by his peers, but there’s surely no surprise there. His portrayal of the pretentious snob overcome by paranoia, grief, and anxiety is the lynchpin of the movie and thankfully he delivers. As renowned gallery owner Rhodora Haze, Rene Russo hasn’t been quite this good in a long time and Malkovich is toned down somewhat from his usual OTT self as struggling artist Piers. Collette is bouncy and effortlessly watchable for her part, however, Daveed Diggs is criminally underused. Zawe Ashton’s agent and wannabe star Josephina is the weak link throughout, her performance left wanting in comparison and I was never sold on any predicament she was in. For the most part, to be honest, I had no bother with any of the characters meeting grizzly ends such was their attitudes, behaviours, and outfits. Speaking of grizzly, the movie is light on fear but the moments when horror rears its head lends some excellent visuals and set pieces that elevate the movie above mere finger-pointing. Come for the zaniness, stay for the horror. The accompanying music will let you know when anything slightly bad is going to happen, just as a heads up.
One thing that cannot be levelled at Velvet Buzzsaw is its lack of originality. 2019 may not see many more movies as mad or different than this and, whether or not it entirely worked, it’s always great to see directors delivering something fresh and Netflix is an excellent advocate in that sense. However, art is subjective dependant on how you view it and the same absolutely applies to Velvet Buzzsaw. People will view this in various ways and find other meanings and layers and, hell, that’s what art is all about. Despite high hopes, Velvet Buzzsaw is bonkers, overly satirical, nauseating and, at times, great all at once but fails to hit any real heights – despite an ace turn from Gyllenhaal.
February 1st 2019