The irony of an arthouse film literally about an art-house was not lost on me (surely this was intentional right?). The Velvet Buzzsaw is a film originally shown at Sundance Film Festival with a Netflix release, and limited cinema release, written and directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy, Kong: Skull Island and Real Steel). It’s clear, based on the director, that this film should amount a certain level of excitement and intrigue; not to mention its stars: Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Night Crawler, Zodiac), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler, Thor, The Intern), Zawe Ashton (Greta, Wanderlust), Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things, Hannah Montana Movie), Toni Collette (Hereditary, The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine) and John Malkovich (Billions, Penguins of Madagascar, Changeling). Some confusion arises in how exactly to classify this movie, is it a slasher? A dark comedy about the art world? A slow burn arthouse film? Perhaps more likely is that it is all of the above.
Gyllenhaal plays the dry, highly-sought-after art critic, Morf Vandewalt, who has significant sway in this fictional art world. His opinions on the pieces hold heavy influence over the success of the artist, and their arthouses, in the long term. He surrounds himself with art dealers, curators, artists and wanna-bees, including his love interest Josephina (played by Ashton). After discovering the body of a man in her apartment building Josephina is drawn to his unit only to discover it filled with grim, terrorising artworks, assumed to be created by the deceased – Dease, who comes with a chilling backstory which is mostly brushed over. The paintings instantly take possession over Josephina, as they do with each person she presents them to, and suddenly Dease is the flavour of the month. Pushed by those his paintings have affected they are given limited release and many are hidden to increase their value in the future. What these greedy art-types failure to understand is the curse bestowed upon these artworks until it is too late and they are befallen by the very art forms they so crudely critique. It is their feverous quest for money and exploitation of art that creates a greed the artworks themselves seem to punish; the only surviving characters are those who create art for the sake of creativity and expression over financial gain.
Many had hoped this film would be a befittingly follow-up to Gilroy’s 2014 film Nightcrawler, furthered by the excitement of Gilroy and his wife Rene Russo working together, a dynamic that is most enjoyable. I myself had hoped this film would begin with a strong critique of the art world – a film bent on demonstrating the ludicrous nature of art dealers and the critics themselves – before rapidly declining into a B-Grade horror with people knocked off left, right and centre. Instead I was faced with a slow-burn film that was a tad ridiculous in places but perhaps befitting of the world it was critiquing. Whilst I was saddened by the distinct pacing between deaths and the time taken into trying to make me care about the relationships between characters I can comfortably say that this film had some really marvellous death scenes. There is a death by artwork-turned-woodchipper, death by robot, death by tattoo and, perhaps my favourite ever, death by paint which leaches from the surrounding artworks, crawling along the floor and up the body slowly suffocating the character!
Despite these scenes and the dark humour peppered through out this film I can’t say I loved it. Am I glad I watched it? I don’t like missing out so yes. Would I watch it again? No, I’m not sure I have the patience to sit that still for that long. To give it one star would be harsh, and unfair given this film did do what I think it set out to do, just not what I was wilfully hoping it would do. It was also a tad underwhelming when compared to Gilroy’s previous project, Nightcrawler. So to that end I would rate this film:
Two out of Five Birds – Erin
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