Time: 112 Minutes
Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt
Rene Russo as Rhodora Haze
Toni Collette as Gretchen
Zawe Ashton as Josephina
Tom Sturridge as Jon Dondon
Natalia Dyer as Coco
Daveed Diggs as Damrish
Billy Magnussen as Bryson
John Malkovich as Piers
Director: Dan Gilroy
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.
Velvet Buzzsaw was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. Nightcrawler was one of the best films of 2014, and writer/director Dan Gilroy and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo are returning from that for Gilroy’s third film, which would be a horror movie in the art world. I was wondering how this movie was going to be. It has a great setup and premise and a good cast involved, however I heard that Gilroy’s second film (Roman J. Israel) wasn’t all that great, so I didn’t know what to expect. Velvet Buzzsaw wasn’t quite the homerun that Nightcrawler was, yet I still liked it, more than other people at least.
I should start by saying not to watch the trailer to Velvet Buzzsaw if you haven’t already. First of all, it shows too much, particularly some key scenes including some deaths. Second of all, it’s being marketed as a full on horror movie, and that’s not really what it is. The movie really is a mix between a satire on the world of art and a campy horror b-movie. Its strongest parts is whenever are satirises the world of art. The first half is pretty much the whole satire bit, even the dialogue that sounds off and flatly written seems oddly deliberate and is genuinely hilarious at points. However, even with some interesting ideas and potential, it barely scratches the surface of what it could’ve been, it doesn’t go much further than the setup. There are also some subplots and some characters that seem to lengthen the runtime and don’t fit into the movie entirely and don’t even get fully resolved. Like I don’t even remember why John Malkovich was in the movie. Despite being an hour and 50 minutes long, it can drag and feel dull at some points. I think a rewrite or two might’ve smoothed out parts of the script. Over time it leans more into the horror aspects and it’s really not effective at the horror parts. I don’t mean that as it didn’t scare me because most horror movies don’t scare me. I’m meaning that I never felt tense throughout the whole movie. By the end it felt like something was missing from the story, like there was a payoff that was supposed to happen but it doesn’t actually come.
There is a great cast involved in this movie, while all of them are good, only some of them stand out. Jake Gyllenhaal is basically the lead of the movie, playing the role of an art critic so pretentious that his name is literally Morf Vandelwalt. It’s not one of his all time best performances but it’s still a great performance very unlike any performance he’s given before and ranks among his strangest roles alongside his parts in Okja and Nightcrawler. Other standouts are Rene Russo, Toni Collette and Zawe Ashton, who are also great in their roles. The rest of the cast including Natalie Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen and John Malkovich are good in their roles and play their parts, however are very much supporting roles and don’t get to shine like Gyllenhaal or Collette.
While I’m not sure yet whether Nightcrawler was just a fluke when it comes to writing for Dan Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw shows that he is a good director at the very least. With the movie being about the art world it’s got such a great look throughout and unsurprisingly the cinematography was done by Robert Elswitt, who shot Nightcrawler (which Dan Gilroy also directed). It is such a stunning looking movie, and really all the technical elements were handled greatly. It has some Final Destination like death scenes (some of which were unfortunately shown in the trailer). While they aren’t scary in the slightest, they are visually creative at the very least.
Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t going to work for everyone. It doesn’t really achieve what it sets out to do, it’s a little clunky and it falls flat at some of the aspects, especially the horror elements. However, I still think there are some good things here. The acting is good, it’s well directed, and some parts of the story worked and I really like the premise. If you’re the least bit interested in it and you have a Netflix account, I’d say give it a chance.