Velvet Buzzsaw: A Dull Bladed Horror Satire
Writer/director Dan Gilroy reunites with Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo to pop shots at L.A.’s vapid art scene with the promise of black humor and the horroresque. The premise, while not very unique, creates the opportunity for kooky fun to be had; however, the reality is that Velvet Buzzsaw is just as soulless as the quirky and cutthroat characters that litter its messy narrative.
Big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce. A feared critic (Jake Gyllenhaal), an icy gallery owner (Rene Russo) and an ambitious assistant (Zawe Ashton) snap up a recently deceased artist's stash of paintings -- with dire consequences. After a series of paintings by an unknown artist are discovered, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.
Dan Gilroy has fallen down from the pedestal of filmmakers to watch into the trenches of mediocrity faster than anyone could have anticipated. With his debut, Nightcrawler, he introduced us to the gritty amoral world of sensationalized broadcast news where the slogan “if it bleeds, it leads” has undertaken new and twisted extremes. While it requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief, Nightcrawler succeeds at getting under the skin because it’s grounded in some semblance of reality — not to mention it has a real firecracker of an ending. Unfortunately, Velvet Buzzsaw can’t manage to be much more than a cool sounding title, extending Gilroy’s sophomore slump (Roman J. Israel, Esq., a character study thriller that, outside of a few moments, never fully delivers) into his third feature, which fails at nearly everything it attempts.
First off, it over complicates its narrative, bloating the runtime by proxy. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, none of which are very defined or dimensional (except for Gyllenhaal’s Morf — and that’s not saying much), and its narrative teeters from cartoony satire to softcore horror/thriller with no grace, making a splotchy, Jackson Pollock-esque mess on the canvas.
Its chief issues stem from its sluggish energy, or its lack of focus and depth. Essentially, it makes the claim that all art is dangerous — a statement that’s not very singular, but is sufficient enough to craft something worth sinking teeth into — but its execution is fairly bloodless and devoid of much pleasure. Its attempts at satire are pretty doughy and half-baked, and the horror and tension are practically nonexistent; there is no nuance or surprises — nearly every death is spoiled by its trailer (another bit of bad Netflix marketing). There’s no vital mystery at its center, except who the artist of these spooky painting is, which isn’t even really all that important — and whose bright idea was it to call this artist Dease?! All that will be running through any reasonable person’s head is Deez Nuts, as they sit in wait for a line of dialogue like “you want all Dease paintings?” (which actually does manifests at one point).
Tonally, it can’t really decide if it wants to play it serious or farcical, and its indecision leads to a lot of bobbling between those two poles. It paints in broad, looney strokes though, devoid of much logic and leaving a lot to be desired, uprooting what makes Nightcrawler a somewhat tangible nightmare in favor of a distended, cartoonish framework that underwhelms more than it thrills. Even more disheartening is its solid cast doesn’t produce much edible fruit from their performances, each character being too outlandish or unlikeable to sympathize with and not deplorable enough to feel catharsis by the time they meet their untimely ends.
Really, it’s a total snooze fest, to use a snippet of criticism that the film’s feared critic Morf uses to cut an artist down to size, with blades too dull to draw blood. It’s difficult to determine what exactly, if anything, the film is trying to say, most likely because Dan Gilroy doesn’t know himself. Honestly, this just made me want to watch The Square and Ghostbusters II instead, which is never the result a film should produce.
Recommendation: It’s a Netflix film so you’re losing nothing but your time; how valuable is that to you?
Rating: 1.5 of Deez Nuts outta 5.
What did you think? Did Velvet Buzzsaw catch you in its satiric blades? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!