Shortly after being shown at the Sundance Film Festival, Velvet Buzzsaw was released worldwide by Netflix on February 1st. Ever since the first trailer, people naturally got insanely excited to watch it: Sundance films are rarely disappointing, the cast is great (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, John Malkovich, Toni Colette, Tom Sturridge, Daveed Diggs…), a director whose debut film was a surprising hit, and Netflix originals that can be hit or miss… but when they hit, they usually hit jackpot.
What could possibly go wrong? I honestly didn’t expect Velvet Buzzsaw to be anything short than a great watch.
The story is centred around the art-world: critics like Morf (Gyllenhaal) attend exhibits held by people like Gretchen (Colette), filled with paintings and statues created by great artists like Piers and Damrish (Malkovich and Diggs) and sponsored by people like Rhodora (Russo). Everything is good and well, until Rhodora’s assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton) comes across the mysterious art collection of a mysterious painter who lived and died under mysterious circumstances. And I don’t think I’ve ever written so many times the word ‘mysterious’ in my whole life. These artworks, however, seem to have a life on their own and start causing the death of people who come in contact with them.
The premise is extremely original and intriguing which, in combination with budget, cast and people involved, made it almost impossible to imagine this movie to be bad. Well, unfortunately, Valvet Buzzsaw kind of sucks.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Let’s start with the positives, though. The film is extremely well-directed: there’s an impressive consistency in tone and the pacing is always even, albeit very slow throughout the entire runtime. Settings and locations look fantastic, representing from a visual standpoint the fake aesthetics these self-absorbed artists live in. Great effort was put into making outfits and makeup of the characters have a very distinctive look to them. As a satirical glance into the art world, Velvet Buzzsaw features quite a few amusing moments and jokes: they’re always very subtle and intelligent, to the point where not everyone will probably pick up on them.
Yet, the performances are mostly very decent, with Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things standing out as the only normal person and doing a good job at that. The show-stealer is – of course – Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s an A-list actor who’s played prominent roles in some of my favourite American films ever since Donnie Darko (2001): Enemy and Prisoners (2013), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Zodiac (2007) and Nocturnal Animals (2015), just to name a few movies that I definitely recommend in case you haven’t seen them. Jake is a chameleon and elevates all the movies he’s in… including this one.
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In fact, Velvet Buzzsaw is impressively filled with issues and continuity errors.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is that, besides Dyer and Diggs’ characters, there are no likeable protagonists. Everyone is just a pretentious asshole, which fits the purpose of the film but doesn’t make the viewing experience enjoyable. In fact, every time the characters interact they only come across as annoying: why, as a viewer, would I want to be annoyed throughout the almost two-hour-long runtime? Especially Russo and Malkovich, two fantastic actors, are just unbearable characters in this film. Still, when it comes to being unbearable, Josephina takes the cake, you spend the whole runtime hoping she would get punched in the face!
Also, the story is really not interesting and doesn’t feature any climactic moment: when these doomed artworks by the dead painter start killing people, the kills are so laughable and unimaginative. There’s some gore in the movie, but it always looks fake and cheap, as well as the CGI which is both cheesy and baffling for how poorly rendered it is.
Without spoiling anything, the point of Buzzsaw is to show how commercial and lucrative art is a crime against real art. The movie can be seen as a satirical representation/metaphor of the sins in the art world. I have absolutely no problem with this, I even agree on the movie’s agenda. That said, when it comes to cinema, the frame (i.e. the technical aspects) and the core (i.e. the meaning) are just means to improve and enhance what really matters: story and characters, which this movie fails to deliver in any convincing and compelling way.
Finally, if you’re looking for a spooky horror film, look away from Velvet Buzzsaw because this movie is incredibly unscary: the director threw in a few cheap jump-scares which only made the supposedly frightening scenes more pathetic and disappointing. The atmosphere in the film is never even close to being unsettling or uneasy.
Although I hate the word ‘pretentious’ and some of my all-time favourite movies are generally referred to by people as pretentious and artsy, I can’t help but consider Velvet Buzzsaw an extremely self-absorbed, pretentious picture; a film where nearly everyone involved felt so cool and clever for criticising the art world whereas they were just proving the opposite by making a mostly dull, self-centred flick that will most likely be hated by the average horror fan and the movie critic alike.
Velvet Buzzsaw 4.5/10
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