After a divisive premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Synopsis: Velvet Buzzsaw is a satirical thriller set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce. (Netflix)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Zawe Ashton
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Director: Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 112mins
Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t the easiest film to describe but maybe that’s for the best. Part satirical comedy, part horror/thriller, there may be a lot to digest here but the film handles it all with a reasonably high amount of success. That being said, the film will not be for everyone as its subject matter will not be for everyone but its use of these different genres make for an engaging story that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way until the end although some may argue that these genres don’t quite fit together. Now how does it get there? The trailers give away way too much of the story so those who go into this knowing as little as possible will surely be the best off.
Gilroy’s third feature film is more like his first film, the vastly underrated Nightcrawler, full of arguably despicable characters and featuring an unrelenting sense of tension throughout. The story here takes a deep dive into the cutthroat art world, highlighting all the excess, vanity, greed, and general snobiness among various artists, agents, art dealers, and celebrities that make up the industry. The characters are arguably over-the-top and silly but this was just the backdrop for the film world. It may have seemed like this large world, however, it was a close-knit one.
The story followed a famous art critic named Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal), a successful art gallery owner named Rhodora Haze (Russo), and an up-and-coming agent who worked for Rhodora named Josephina (Ashton) among many others (there are quite a few characters here of various degrees of importance). The competitive local art industry was becoming rather stagnant, waiting for the next big breakthrough. This breakthrough would come soon after once the many works of a relatively unknown artist would be unearthed. These works would quickly take the spotlight and become the talk of the town, earning Rhodora and Josephina heightened notoriety.
Little did everyone know that this notoriety would come with a price as anyone associated with this unknown artist’s work would face an untimely fate. Getting to this point would be a slow burn as the troubled history of this new artist would come to light. This artist was pretty much the polar ideological opposite of all the others, seemingly having his revenge on those who would try profit off of his work. Obsessed with the artist and his work, Morf would become consumed to the point that it was affecting his regular life. Clearly, others would not heed his warning.
Of course a film about art would have a distinct style. The camerawork, set designs, special effects, and the score would all work together to create a palpable sense of tension and claustrophobia, especially when not knowing when or how the artist would strike next. Though the film never really explained the supernatural side of the story, seeing these snobs get their comeuppance in a series of inventive ways was very satisfying to watch. It just would have been nice to have seen more of it.
The film may have had a lot going for it, however, it would not have worked nearly as well if not for its script and performances. Not only was the scathing satire there, so was some sharp dialog. Unlike Nightcrawler, this was a companion piece. However, Gyllenhaal was still the standout in the same ways he was then with a radically different character than Lou Bloom in Morf Vandewalt. Gyllenhaal has always had this screen presence to him and he uses this to command almost every scene. He was compelling to watch throughout which also makes it disappointing in a way since despite being a companion piece, it would have been nice to see more of him. Ultimately, this wasn’t as bad as everyone else was solid.
Overall, Velvet Buzzsaw was an excellent satirical comedy, horror/thriller hybrid film that may very well not be for everyone. Its subject matter and characters won’t be for everyone and may rub some people to the wrong way as will its horror elements but at the end of the day, is a compelling and stylish watch with a smart script and excellent performances, including one from Jake Gyllenhaal, that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.
*Velvet Buzzsaw will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 1st*