The Velvet Buzzsaw movie poster.
Many people were delighted to hear that actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Life, Okja) and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Kong: Skull Island) were reuniting to produce the new Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw. The last time they teamed up, they produced Nightcrawler, which is believed by many to be one of the best films in the last 10 years. Can they catch lightning in a bottle again with Velvet Buzzsaw like they did with Nightcrawler, or will they fail?
Sadly, Velvet Buzzsaw never manages to reach the same heights as Nightcrawler. The film is entertaining, but it has some flaws that need to be addressed. Before we talk about that though, let’s talk about the film itself. What is Velvet Buzzsaw? The film is about these paintings, made by an artist name Vetril Dease, who lived alone. He was found dead in front of his apartment, and his landlord said that Dease asked for the paintings to be destroyed. However, Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton (Nocturnal Animals, Blitz), discovers the paintings, and brings them to the art gallery she works at. Rhodora, played by Rene Russo (Nightcrawler, The Intern), is in charge at the gallery, and she finds out that Josephina has the paintings. They decide to put them on display, and that's when the premise comes into play, where art is possessed and kills those who let greed get in the way of appreciating the art. It’s clear that the intent was to create a mesh between horror and satire, but one issue stems from that. The satire part completely stumps out the horror part. Now, don't get me wrong, the film does have what one could consider horror. However, at times that we were supposed to be scared, or feel bad for somebody’s death, more than half the time, it was funny. I mean, it even sound funny on paper. Art coming to life and killing people. And to be honest, this shouldn’t be an issue. A lot of films can turn basic horror into comedy. But based off of the marketing of the film, it’s pretty clear that the intention was to create a horror movie. If Velvet Buzzsaw had simply embraced the comedy, at least in it’s marketing, then I feel that it would have been able to improve itself.
Even though it had a glaring issue in it’s tone, the film has a lot of things going for it. First, it has Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal is one of the best actors alive today. His character Morf Vanderwalt, is something that I seriously would have liked to see more of. I honestly wouldn’t have cared if the whole film revolved around him, but he isn’t the main focus. Morf is one of those characters that you feel bad for by the end. The one you don’t want to die. He’s smart, interesting, but he’s also cold and calculating. He’s an art critic and he’s the first to realize that Dease’s paintings are being possessed. He even kills his career to try and get them to stop being sold. He is one of the most likable characters in the movie in comparison to others, besides Coco and Piers, played by Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) and John Malkovich (Of Mice And Men, Bird Box, Red) respectively, and a few others. And that's one of the reasons for why I said earlier that some character deaths were funny. I didn’t care about them. For example Jon Dondon, who’s name is hilarious, and is played by Tom Sturridge (Sweetbitter, Waiting for Forever) is a completely flat character. Nobody in the film likes him, and the way he dies is by trying to fix a lightbulb that was going on a fritz. As he’s fiddling with the lightbulb, a hand comes out of nowhere and hangs him by his own bowtie. Coco discovers him the next morning. A character I did like though, Rhodora, was interesting. Sure, she wasn’t that great of a person, but she had a cool backstory. She was in a punk band when she was younger, called Velvet Buzzsaw which is where the movie gets its title from. And while she may not be the greatest person in the film, she doesn’t actively sabotage people around her at a degree that a lot of the other characters were.
Another thing about the film is that it’s pacing isn’t amazing. The movie uses the first half hour to set up the premise, and while it may not seem like much, it drags on for a while. However, the rest of the film is pretty good. Once Bryson, played my Billy Magnussen (Game Night, Ingrid Goes West) dies trying to steal some of Dease’s art, the movie picks up steam. While everybody thinks that Bryson crashed the truck and wandered into the desert, after Jon Dondon dies, Morf realizes that something is up with the art. Then Gretchen, played by Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Hereditary) gets her arm shredded by a sphere, and Morfs mental state begins to deteriorate as he begins to experience hallucinations and hear voices. He tries to convince Rhodora to sell the paintings, but she refuses, and he decides to publish an article that would kill his career, one about Dease’s paintings and how dangerous they are. Morf then goes to a warehouse to put his Dease paintings away forever, and he finds Hoboman, a robot that he had critiqued at the beginning of the film, and he had given it a bad review. It’s pretty ironic, because if he had given it a good review, then the robot wouldn’t be in the warehouse, as somebody would have bought it. The robot chases him as Morf tries to run away, but then Morf runs into a locked gate. Then, it breaks his neck, despite Morf’s attempts to try and tell the spirit that he understands what’s happening. While this is happening, Josephina, and her boyfriend, Damrish, played by Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Wonder) are at a bar. He tells her that he is going to no longer display his art Rhodora’s gallery, and she gets angry, and tells him that if art can’t be seen, then there’s no point in there being any. She goes outside, where her car is blocked by another. She calls a tow truck, and right after, her phone freezes, and all that's on the screen is one of Dease’s paintings. She turns around, and instead of there being a wall of graffiti, there’s an art gallery similar to the one she works at. She enters and calls Rhodora, and while they speak, paint begins to drip off of the paintings and crawl towards her.
Rhodora meanwhile, is chasing her cat, and is almost crushed by a wooden sculpture. She then goes back to talk to Josephina, who is covered in paint. The next day, we see Josephina sort of inside the wall where the graffiti was, kind of like somebody traced her with paint. Rhodora, meanwhile, finally accepts the truth behind Dease’s paintings, and has all of the art in her house removed. She sits down and the Velvet Buzzsaw tattoo starts to spin. It rips a hole in her neck and she dies. The film cuts to Coco, who is leaving L.A back to Michigan. She sees some of Dease’s paintings being sold by homeless people for five dollars, perhaps teasing a sequel. The film finally cuts to Piers, one of Rhodoras artists, who is on a beach, drawing lines in the sand
Overall, the film wasn’t bad. Each character got what they deserved for their actions. While Morf was dating Josephina, he gave her ex a bad review, even though his art was good. This caused her ex to get into a drunk car accident that left him in a coma. Because of this, the spirit killed him. Bryson tried to steal the art and that's why he died. Gretchen tried to get Morf to giver her early reviews, and when he declined, she sabotaged his and Josephina’s relationship, which is why she is with Damrish in the third act. The only main characters who survived were Coco and Piers. Coco, because she never tried to steal the art or sabotage anyone, and Piers because he appreciated art for what it was, and didn’t care what other people thought about his.
Velvet Buzzsaw was an entertaining film. While it didn’t meet genre expectations, it sort of pulled an Evil Dead type scenario where the tone was off but the film still managed be entertaining and fun. It may have had some flaws, and a boring first act, but Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo give great performances, and the second and third act more than make up for the first. Overall, I would totally recommend Velvet Buzzsaw to a friend.