Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton
Director: Dan Gilroy
I legitimately have no idea what Dan Gilroy was thinking when he wrote Velvet Buzzsaw. This has to be one of the most bizarre movies I’ve seen in quite some time and there’s really no reason why it’s so bizarre. It’s shocking for the sake of being shocking, but that comes after what may be the most pretentious and self-important first act of a movie this year. It’s hard to believe that the same person who directed Nightcrawler would go down this route and create a world that has no semblance of a point but is still horrifying enough to creep out audiences from their homes.
The film follows a series of characters who work in the art industry either as a critic, a seller, or someone just trying to find their footing. Josephina (Ashton), one of the characters starting to develop her career in the art industry, discovers Earth-shattering art in the apartment of her recently deceased neighbor. As she exposes more people to this art, those who profit off of these paintings suddenly have tragic events happen in their lives and they must decide if these paintings have some sort of curse associated with them or if these incidents are just coincidences. This movie has the foundation to be something special, but it’s very unclear what it’s trying to be and that ultimately hinders the overall quality of the movie. The main issue is that the first half is a strong contender for most pretentious and self-serving movie of 2019. I know people like these characters exist in real life, but it’s incredibly grating to listen to them speak in such a pompous manner for the hour or so. Maybe this is a credit to actors like Gyllenhaal, Russo, and Collette who can successfully be as irritating as humanly possible, but the alternative is just to not have these characters exist in the first place. In the second half though, the movie takes a dramatic shift to more of a horror film instead of its previously established art-house feel. This portion of the movie is significantly more fleshed out with some very creative and fittingly artistic horror scenes, but there’s never any explanation as to why these events happen. There’s no element of mythos or anything that could potentially provide an explanation to these events and we’re expected to just accept these events as they happen. Sure they’re unpleasant and unsettling, but at the same time they’re empty and meaningless, much like the first half of the movie. The concept of Velvet Buzzsaw is unique and interesting enough to make it a decent and daring addition to Netflix’s library, but for a duo that dazzled our screen in Nightcrawler, this sure feels like a fall from grace. I appreciate it when filmmakers and actors take risks, but in the case of Velvet Buzzsaw, none of these risks particularly pay off and the final product is incredibly underwhelming. Velvet Buzzsaw definitely isn’t the movie with the most widespread audience appeal and it’s more awkward than it is exciting, but the moments of true fear that the movie produces in small doses is enough to keep if afloat for some of the 113 minute runtime.
Overall, there’s not necessarily a reason for a movie like Velvet Buzzsaw to be made, but it allowed some talented people to be creative for a period of time, so it’s a step forward for ingenuity and a step backwards for quality. Films like Velvet Buzzsaw can work if they experiment properly and do something truly unique for audiences, but in this case, these risks don’t pay off and the end result is ultimately underwhelming.
Overall Score: 4.5/10