Here I thought we had seen the final Final Destination. Evidently, that was not true as Velvet Buzzsaw has made its way to Netflix, with a surprisingly huge amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera including the acting talents of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, and Daveed Diggs, as well as the directorial and writing strengths of Dan Gilroy, who most people know of his Nightcrawler fame
When I stumbled upon the trailer for this film mere days ago, I immediately got super excited. Not only are Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel Esq. two of my favorite movies, but as a legitimate fan of the Final Destination franchise, I was quite excited for it. February 1st, I sat down and watched it, and I was… disappointing. Let’s not wait any longer though and just get into Velvet Buzzsaw.
First up is the best thing about the film, which is the performances. Toni Collette follows up Hereditary, one of last year’s best horror movies and the only one which actually scared me, with another great performance here. Rene Russo also gives it her all as the as the head of an art agency and is pretty much just the same character that she was in Nightcrawler, but more ruthless, and as with Nightcrawler, the best performance comes from Jake Gyllenhaal.
Gyllenhaal as always gives it his very best as an art critic with perhaps the stupidest name in a film since After Earth‘s Cypher Raige, Morf Vandewalt, but at least the former was science fiction. He plays it with such a Nicolas Cage like intensity that it really is a joy to watch. The rest of the cast also gives a lot of effort, which makes it one of the better acted films of the year so far.
Another positive thing is the horror aspect of the film. While I do have some problems that I’ll get into later regarding the actual amount of the thrills it provides, what Velvet Buzzsaw does give us it fairly enjoyable. Similar to the Final Destination films, they pretty much just wave what will kill our heroes in front of your face like “Oh, what is this? Could it be… Foreshadowing?”
The main problem with this however is that with the Final Destination movies, most of the time it ended up being something else instead of what we thought would be the instrument of death, from a small pin to a giant fan. With this, it just gives you the one right in front of you, which really draws from that overall moment of terror. Oh wait, was that positive accidentally turned into a negative? Well, that’s a metaphor for this entire movie. The scares that aren’t extremely telegraphed before hand are entertaining, but those which it just dangles it in front of your face just flat out disappoint.
That’s really it when it comes to positives for the film, acting and a few interesting kills. Luckily, I will not have this kind of problem when it comes to the negatives. First up is, as previously mentioned, the amount of horror in the film. Velvet Buzzsaw has less horror than a comedy-musical on YouTube I watched last month about a guy who didn’t like musicals.
There are so many scenes which pretty much just we’re going to set up subplots which ultimately do nothing! From romance to some characters just being completely useless, so much of this movie ultimately goes nowhere, and it all peaks with a perfect anti-climax that is just so disappointing. It’s just so fantastically dull and so boring, places where it could put, I don’t know, horror. That would be smart for a horror film, right?
The other negative I really want to talk about is the true worst part of the film, the storytelling. Now, the way it starts off is perfectly fine, as I said earlier it has the somewhat obligatory Final Destination waving in front of your face, and that’s whatever. It’s when we get further into the film that it begins to fall apart. Things such as characters who pretty much disappear halfway through the film and serve no purpose beside moving along a subplot which leads to nothing.
Things such as “Hey, let’s just throw a subplot in! That won’t make the movie feel more discombobulated!” The storytelling here is so bland and disjointed, that it’s impossible to enjoy it. Velvet Buzzsaw needed someone to maybe stand in the door for Dan Gilroy like “Dan… buddy… do we really need John Malkovich in this?” They don’t.
So to close, you may be able to tell that I did not enjoy this film. It’s just so dull and all over the place story-wise. Dan Gilroy was given a story with so much potential, an amazing cast, a really good premise, and he has shown himself to be a great writer/director. However, it ended up being a disappointment with just some of the worst storytelling I’ve seen in a while! Gilroy tried to make a Picasso, but instead it feels like a kids finger painting, so so messy.
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.