Velvet Buzzsaw is one of the most uniquely titled films of the year and after enduring it I still couldn’t tell you exactly why it’s titled this aside from the fact that it sounds somewhat interesting and mysterious… much like most art.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the Netflix film is a satirical horror/thriller set in the art world of Los Angeles where those who let money get in the way of their appreciation for art get their comeuppance. That may sound intriguing to some and may sound incredibly dumb to others, but somehow this film manages to be both of those things in the span of nearly 2 hours. This movie kicks off really well, it introduces some creepy thriller-like plot points, sets up the story well, and introduces the main characters in a way that had me intrigued to see where they lead. At the same time, there are effective satirical and metaphorical undertones about the art world and art criticism that do work. For the first 30 minutes I must say I was enjoying myself and this film I was watching for the talent alone had my full attention. But it’s clear that as it progresses beyond the third act it gradually falls further and further down the rabbit hole to disaster.
Let’s just say that shit starts to go sideways going into the second act and even then I was intrigued as the light horror/thriller elements started to kick in. But it quickly becomes apparent that this story is taking the supernatural horror themes and running with them all the way to the finish, becoming more ridiculous with each moment. I do get the satirical elements that are still present but the core of the film switches heavily towards this almost slasher-like structure and it drove me to boredom. I cannot remember the last film in which I flipped from being genuinely intrigued to dreadfully bored within a matter of 30 minutes. The story just becomes dumb and nonsensical as it loses focus of the subtlety in the earlier moments and does get to that point where I wanted to turn it off as it became a waste of time.
The performances of these odd characters are good, as exaggerated as they may be I could see these personas being part of the pretentious New York art scene. Gilroy reunites with his Nightcrawler (2014) stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo and they are two of the better performers of the film. Russo does a lot with limited involvement and Gyllenhaal basically carries the majority of the film with his performance as this eccentric art critic by the name of Morf Vandewalt. His interactions with Zawe Ashton make for some good scenes here and there but her character on her own wasn’t all too interesting. Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Natalia Dyer, and Billy Magnussen all have roles in the film but they’re pretty sidelined partaking in the occasional minor scenes here and there. The only interesting character has to be that of Morf, but even then once the horror elements take over the story I lost all interest I had in basically everything going on.
There is a quirkiness in the character names and the scenarios that play out that really isn’t half bad. Hearing a character be referred to as Jon Dondon gives life to the satirical side that Gilroy was going for, but the horror overtones overshadow this constantly and in the end drive it into a pole.
It’s clear here that Dan Gilroy had a vision for what he wanted this film to be and to my knowledge he achieved what he wanted and that’s honestly great for him. Aside from enjoying the first act and minor elements through the second, I found it tough to sit through this film which felt like an absolute drag for the entire last hour. If it stuck with the more suggestive horror of the first act and didn’t turn into an art slasher flick I’d have enjoyed it much more. But Gilroy didn’t swing that way and in my books this is a swing and a miss.