Where do I begin with Velvet Buzzsaw? Dan Gilroy has crafted a satirical, ensemble, art comedy meets supernatural slasher horror. It’s very much its own thing. Walking the line between Chuck Palahniuk’s novels (especially Lullaby) and the works of David Lynch, Buzzsaw is a fascinating piece of film making. A blend of genres with some truly great actors and a wicked sense of humour.
Set mostly in Los Angeles, based in the world of modern art, Velvet Buzzsaw is a slow moving, mostly comedic character driven piece, that eventually ends up being about a collection of cursed artwork, discovered in the apartment of a dead man, Vetril Dease.
Josephina (Zawe Ashton) and Rhodora decide to sell the work, despite it having explicit instructions to be destroyed. Of course, things spiral and chaos ensues. The Dease artworks become the talk of LA, but seem to punish everyone involved in selling them. As Dease’s past unravels, our characters edge closer to the encroaching terror, but the humour never quite goes away.
I found Velvet Buzzsaw to be a lot of fun. Yes, it’s self indulgent, pompous and purposefully vague. But so is art and the art world. I enjoyed the idea of the cursed artwork, a classic horror trope, here inserted into what doesn’t really start as a horror film. It’s what brought to mind the Chuck Palahniuk comparison, dropping something supernatural and scary into a largely human, realistic, environment.
There’s a lot to talk about with this movie, a larger discussion about the impact of criticism on artists, on critics and the consumer. Morf sees the effects his words have on an upcoming artist and his guilt combined with the supernatural events send him spiralling. Everyone sort of has their own arc, their own realisation. Largely those motivated by greed or exploitation. Gilroy doesn’t spell things out for us, which I appreciate.
The ensemble cast is absolutely phenomenal, Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf, the bisexual art critic might be the standout, with Rene Russo and Toni Collette giving him a run for his money. John Malkovich and Stranger Things star Natalia Dyer both shine in smaller roles. However Zawe Ashton as Josephina is legitimately awful. I couldn’t tell if it was on purpose to match her unlikeable character or she had somehow sneaked in a stinker of an effort in amongst some stunning actors. I’m not usually one to single out someone’s performance but she really does make some scenes work less than they should.
Los Angeles itself becomes somewhat of a character, stunning city shots that wouldn’t be out of place in Drive. The pieces of art themselves are downright terrifying, Sphere being ominous and mysterious with Hoboman just straight up spooky before things even get weird. Dease’s paintings have an otherworldly look to them too, obviously all designed to heighten the anticipation of just when they will come alive.
I really do like the fact that Netflix is giving more unusual films like this a much broader platform, the general public would probably not rush to see Velvet Buzzsaw on the cinema, but when it’s just one click away on your TV, why not!? Releases like this, Birdbox (also featuring John Malkovich), Roma and last year’s Annihilation prove that good, interesting content is important to Netflix’s strategy and long may it continue.
I think Velvet Buzzsaw is the first must see film of the year, its bold, weird and funny and doesn’t seem to compromise its vision. I think Gilroy could have maybe leaned harder into the horror elements, but then it may have become too far fetched or become more like a Stephen King film if it was adapted by Brett Easton Ellis.
Velvet Buzzsaw is available to steam on Netflix right now.
For Fans Of :
Twin Peaks (2017)