Hardly terrifying and oddly absurd, Velvet Buzzsaw delivers little thrill and too much flounce to truly succeed.
On Friday, Netflix released the new movie Velvet Buzzsaw, created by Dan Gilroy—2014 award-winning film director of Nightcrawler—and featuring two members of the Nightcrawler cast, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. A horror movie, Velvet Buzzsaw seeks to examine commercialization in the art world, but lacks the depth and intrigue of the previous film and delivers an almost laughably lackluster film that fails to capture the attention and the terror of the audience.
Velvet Buzzsaw begins with Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), a tough art critic, surveying an art exhibition with his friend Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an ambitious young woman who works for art gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and is looking to break into the snobbish art scene. Josephina discovers a man dead in her building named Ventril Dease, and upon entering his home, discovers a trove of never-before-displayed paintings by the man, who was an artist but never wanted his work shown.
Recognizing Dease’s artistic genius, Josephina steals the paintings, claiming she represents him, and Rhodora and Morf soon join with her to display the paintings in a wildly successful show that piques the interest of many buyers. Strange occurrences, however, begin happening, as people associated with the exploitation of the paintings start to encounter the supernatural, dying by the hands of the paintings they intend to profit off of. The vengeful spirit of Dease eventually works his way through the dealers, as their own personal lives also begin to disintegrate from their greed and hedonism.
Velvet Buzzsaw intends to satirize and expose the bastardization of art with commercialism and the avarice of members who work in the art industry, reducing works of deep emotion into a price tag that is easily transferred to anyone with enough cash. The satire, however, falls flat as the characters sometimes feel like pure caricatures without much depth beyond their surface traits of greed and immorality. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, and although they were intended to be villainous, the complete lack of regard that the movie builds for them makes their demise much less impactful. The sheer exaggeration of their absurdity makes them nothing but stereotypes and creates little connection that the audience can feel toward them.
The entire movie has a strange flow, often heightened by the overly quirky ways the characters behave. As Dease’s traumatic childhood is revealed as the basis of his artistic genius, the audience still struggles to feel much sympathy for the character, as his function in the movie feels more like only a plot device rather than a (once) living, breathing human being.
The movie doesn’t have many jump scares, but also doesn’t have enough tension to keep audiences on edge. Moments of horror are predictable, and the ways the characters meet their gruesome deaths are almost laughably cheesy—for instance, at one point, a driver gets pulled into a painting by hairy monkey arms. A horror movie really fails when scenes that are supposed to be terrifying strike laughter into the audience rather than fear. Without tension, the film fails to live up to its genre’s standards.
The movie just feels frivolous and shallow, which ironically is exactly what it was supposed to criticize. Nothing ever truly strikes a chord with the audience, and every action feels trite.
The aesthetics of the movie switch from the pristine, highbrow airs of the pretentious art world to an over-exaggerated dark tone that tries to establish the tension that the movie so desperately lacks. The constant switching between the two very different moods detracts from the film, and the audience can find it hard to buy the overdramatic tone that the movie often takes.
Fans of the horror genre would be disappointed in Velvet Buzzsaw. On the other hand, people looking for a clichéd criticism of the art world might find the movie—though laughable on occasion—enjoyable on the whole.
Featured Image by Netflix