VELVET BUZZSAW just came out on Netflix this past weekend and I watched it in two sittings, so since its technically a movie that came out in 2019, I’m here to review it. And I’m not saying it is technically a movie just because its on Netflix, I’m saying its technically a movie because it has actors, characters, a plot, a beginning, middle, and end, and it is feature length. However, this movie lacks that one thing that I constantly bitch about if you are a constant reader of my reviews: focus. It lacks focus. And the infuriating part of it is that it has two central focal points, however they don’t really mesh together here very well. One of the focal points (we’ll get to what they are in a second) is pretty damn fantastic the first half of the film, then the second focal point doesn’t really deliver at all, and when meshing with the first one, makes a back half that drags and delivers a ho-hum of an ending. I’m actually a bit disappointed, seeing that this was from Dan Gilroy, writer and director of the fantastic film Nightcrawler.
And then he made Roman J. Israel Esq. which I think I enjoyed more than most people (story/plot wise), especially Denzel Washington’s Academy Award nominated performance, even though it never even closely reached the heights of Nightcrawler. Velvet Buzzsaw never reaches the heights of either movie, save for Jake Gyllenhaall’s performance. The film is about a supernatural presence in artworks that kills artists, gallery owners, art critics, etc. after a woman (played by Zawe Ashton) ‘steals’ a bunch of exquisite paintings by an unknown artist. When I say ‘steals’, she actually happens to find his dead body on the stairwell in her apartment complex, find out he has no next of kin, and just goes searching in his apartment after the super says they are going to throw everything out.
Suffice to say that the movie tries to blend art world parody and horror, and while it gets the former correct, the latter is done so lazily and uninteresting that I found myself pausing the movie after every couple of minutes just to see how much I actually had left to watch. The horror isn’t even scary, and if not scary, it needs to be funny in a farce kind of way, and it doesn’t do either. And when the film focuses on the horror, it completely ignores that art world parody that came before it, leading to the scenes in the back half of the film being an unfocused, lazy, boring, terrible mess. Also another problem with the film is that there are absolutely no likable characters, I guess save for one, played by Stranger Thing’s Natalia Dyer, but then her character is just regulated to her spouting off a couple of sentences about needing a job and finding all the dead body’s this supernatural presence is stacking up.
Jake Gyllenhaul is excellent here, and seems to always bring his A game when investing in a role, however his character doesn’t really have an arc until the very end of the film, and it seems rushed and wasted. Plus, I didn’t like his character. Rene Russo seems like she’s bored, Toni Collette as well. Daveed Diggs looks like he is there doing someone a favor, and Zawe Ashton, who should have the most rounded arc of anyone in the cast, is terribly unlikable and the ending to her story was infinite degrees of dumb. John Malkovich is also terribly wasted here too. It seems like the characters motivations and action were traded in for story, which upends the film. When looking back at it, it seems Dan Gilroy had a great half a film, in which it completely parodies the art world and the people involved in it. The other half wasn’t realized and spruced up enough screenplay wise, making a film that goes together like oil and water.
None of the horror or death scenes are inventive or scary. Dan Gilroy doesn’t even do the modern audience a favor and bring in cheap jump scares to just liven the film up a bit. The characters just die in really lazy ways, with either terrible CGI spray blood or even fucking off screen (you don’t do this if you have a R/TV-MA rating). When watching the trailer to this, I was quite intrigued to see the new ride that Gilroy was going to give us. But now that his films clearly having a pattern of being not as good as the last one, I am a little shaken thinking of how his fourth feature could be worse than this. Is he a one-two trick pony going the way of Shyamalan? We’ll see…