Saturday, February 2

Velvet Buzzsaw Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette & Tom Sturridge
Netflix Original – February 1, 2019

Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is an art critic well known for making and breaking careers of aspiring artists in the world of lofty museums and wealthy collectors. His on-again lover, Josephina (Ashton) discovers a large collection of paintings by an unknown artist that quickly take the subculture by force, both critically and supernaturally, exacting merciless punishment upon those who would attempt to profit from it.

“Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining.” – Morf Vandewalt

This film boasts a great mixed bag of an ensemble cast, many of which are doing great work. Aside from those mentioned above, we get performances from interesting up-and-comers like “Stranger Things” star, Natalie Dyer, BLINDSPOTTING’s Daveed Diggs and future household name, Billy Magnussen. We also see a typically muted and characteristically sad John Malkovich in a small but grounding role.

But the highlight performance here belongs to Gyllenhaal. I think this is truly the proper use of his talents. Much like in Gilroy’s NIGHTCRAWLER (’14) and Bong Joon-ho’s OKJA (’17), he is allowed to take his character off the deep end and into the realm of caricature. He’s just so much more interesting and fun to watch when he does this. He was never really made for restraint. His character hides his vulnerability with ruthlessness. At one point, he even critiques a funeral.

“Art is supposed to be dangerous.” – Rhodora Haze

Tonally, this film never seems to get where it’s trying to go however. That’s a presumptuous critique, I know. But for a supernatural plot with strong elements of horror and an ominous score to support this mood, I get the feeling that the film thinks it’s a bit more suspenseful than it really is. Early on, we are even treated to the obligatory “cat-out-of-nowhere” jump scare. While elements reminiscent of Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD (’59) and H.G. Lewis’ COLOR ME BLOOD RED (’65) are present here, the overall piece actually comes off more like the darkest installment of the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM franchise. This is a shame because had it been more adherent to the horror genre, I think it could have been an almost perfect film.

“What does it say?”

“What do you feel?”

It’s the exploration and expression of themes that made me enjoy and respect this film more than any other aspect. Every character in this world is a walking contradiction. They are all so desperate for validation from each other while at the same time, they would slit each other’s throats out at the drop of a dime if it meant more exposure. The film is full of cheek-kissing, brown-nosing and back-stabbing.

Morf himself is the plot’s most striking bit of hypocrisy. His writing serves as a metaphor for the film itself. Just because it has a lot to say, does not mean that what it is saying is particularly profound. Contradictorily, even though its message lacks depth, this is not to say that it is not delivered in an interesting and eloquent manner. Much like Morf’s writing, the film itself is pretentious and shallow, yet still, articulate and expressive. It is this dichotomy that fascinates me. It is the reason that I will file this film in my head in the same cabinet as Refn’s NEON DEMON (’16) and even Malick’s TREE OF LIFE (’11). What sets this one apart however, is that it is simply much more fun to watch. And unlike those films, VELVET BUZZSAW seems to know that we are not supposed to be taking any of this all that seriously.

Emery’s Rating
4 out of 5 Stars

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