Velvet Buzzsaw is not good. It’s a film billed as a drama, thriller, mystery that isn’t any of those things. The trailer gives the impression that we’re to be excited for a horror movie where art kills the viewer. That does happen a few times, but this movie fails at it.
Let’s have a story where a dark art hermit dies and his artwork gets stolen and sold to the world. We can say that he wanted his work destroyed as an omen, but nobody listened because they wanted to get rich and now everybody’s dying. Sounds like a great time to me and I’m sure the idea sounded good to Netflix as well. The problem with Velvet Buzzsaw lies in its execution.
Dan Gilroy’s “art horror” movie is all over the place. First, we are introduced to a parody of the art world filled with characters that embody the easiest of stereotypes. As a forced and unfunny satire, this act of the film makes an attempt to establish our characters and setting in a laughable way but not because it’s amusing. The fact is that this movie starts off intentionally dumb and stays that way throughout.
Rene Russo ultimately leads the cast of characters attempting to profit off a dead man’s art. It’s a shame that this film isn’t better considering the potential leads we have here, but we are saddled with Jake Gyllenhaal doing a variety show performance that at times seems misdirected and unrehearsed. Toni Collette is undervalued and underused as well as Malkovich, and it doesn’t help that the editing and pacing of the picture is awful.
Zawe Ashton plays alongside Gyllenhaal as the failed gallery director protégé who finds the evil art. It’s a performance that doesn’t do the film any favors, and by the end what little positive interest built up in her character is lost. There are other notable talents in the mix playing characters that seem to try and flesh out the movie to be what it wants to be. Overall though, it doesn’t matter or make the movie any more compelling. What this movie could have used was a better sense of evil and dread.
Velvet Buzzsaw is not a good horror movie. It’s a dumb and easy comedy that loses that energy twenty minutes in and becomes a meandering game of “who’s going to wind up dead next” up until the unsatisfying ending. This movie does not need to be two hours long especially considering the build-up and kills are not well done at all. I hate the kills in this movie. The visual effects look amateurish and the scenarios are lame. It’s just disappointing.
The best scenes in the film by far are dominated by the presences of Rene Russo, Toni Collette and John Malkovich. They are the core of the Velvet Buzzsaw that would have worked. If it were just about these three and everyone else around them getting killed off by possessed dark art, this film would have been a riot. Sadly though, what we got was a bloated attempt at criticizing the fine art world, a weak attempt at shining a light on journalism and critics, and a weak attempt at a murder mystery thriller.
There are plenty of other movies that do this idea better. Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t good and it doesn’t work as a horror movie or even an entertaining one. It’s a kitchen sink movie that takes shots at the art world and presents it as dominated by misanthropic and corrupt. That is true in some circles, but this cheap and easy genre movie isn’t the forum for that kind of discussion. If you’re looking for a film where fun characters get killed off by good artwork, this isn’t it. Skip it.