The genre of niche art flicks is a genre that is rarely explored. Whether it be the pretentious, self-absorbed and conceited people who live in that world or the shallow mundanity that lies within it, art dealing isn’t the most popular topic. Cue Netflix’s newest release: Velvet Buzzsaw. It’s an interesting concept, with a lot of room for creativity – but, does it work?
Velvet Buzzsaw follows Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), a highly respected art critic, and the people who inhabit his world. After an unknown artist is discovered, everyone is entranced by his work, as well as the story behind it. However, when weird things start to happen, it becomes apparent that those paintings are more than they seem.
It’s easy to find yourself getting lost in the society that this movie creates. It’s all encapsulating; by the end of it, you find yourself questioning, critiquing and inspecting everything to the smallest detail. What is most surprising is that, for once, the acting isn’t the only thing that makes this world seem real. The attention to detail, in the artwork that is shown, in the people who inhabit this vast orgy of all things beautiful – it becomes hard to avoid its pompous nature.
That doesn’t go without saying that the acting doesn’t do its fair share of the deal. Gyllenhaal’s Morf is camp, specific and slightly mentally insane. It doesn’t seem to come across quite as mental as it actually is: everything seems strangely expected. The way that Morf takes off his glasses, the way he dresses, the way he carries himself – all of it just seems to fit. It’s rare where a world so alien, feels so familiar.
Much of the supporting cast are also surprisingly expected. Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is desperate to climb up the career ladder, and she’ll steal from (and sleep with) anyone who gets in her way. She’s not exactly the most likeable character that has ever graced a TV screen, but she knows how to carry her character. Toni Collette’s Gretchen is even more dislikeable but somehow admirable in her stone-cold straightforwardness. She doesn’t chase around a point, and it’s obvious Collette has this role wrapped around her little finger.
Now, let’s get down to brass tax: in what way is a movie about the insanity of the art world interesting? Well, when it has moving, murderous paintings involved – that’s when. As far as thrillers go, it’s rare to find one quite as ambitious as Velvet Buzzsaw. From demonic monkeys to people becoming trapped in walls, the list of ways people are killed off in this movie is never-ending. A wonderfully succinct metaphor for greed in the art world, the paintings that everyone is profiting off of, become their demise.
The universe that these characters live in revolves around one all-encompassing thing: money. In their line of work, money really does make the world go round. It’s not often that a movie so flawlessly weaves in social commentary in a world that is so obviously not real. Yet, somehow, the humanity of this movie is what makes it so eerie. It’s terrifying, but only because it hits so close to home.
However, as wonderful as the idea is, the execution isn’t quite as inventive. It seems forced at times, with some scenes seeming as though they’re just thrown in to cause a sensation. Other times, the murder scenes are really well orchestrated, almost as beautifully as the paintings that inspired their deaths. At times, the movie feels more like a rusty saw, grinding along, instead of the smooth, continuous whir of a buzzsaw.
It’s hard not to want more from this movie. Writer/director Dan Gilroy attempted something brilliant in the form of an ambitious, sexy and terrifying script. Instead, when translated on screen, it becomes more of a painting that’s pushed into the furthest corner of a museum instead of a prime exhibition. It’s just a shame when excitement surrounding a movie doesn’t quite pay off.
Velvet Buzzsaw is an ambitious movie about ambitious people. It’s almost obnoxious in its willingness to be something different, something ‘new’. Although it doesn’t quite make the cut, it definitely has a jolly good stab at it. For some reason, that makes it quite hard to stop thinking about.