A great Gyllenhaal once said, “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining.” And so, This Guy sort of feels like he’s falling into some sort of malicious trap by trying to review Velvet Buzzsaw, the latest Netflix original from Dan Gilroy, the man behind Nightcrawler. But the disappointment of viewing a new piece of art, an expression of one’s soul in its debut with such anticipation, only to have it dashed away by waves of mediocrity, is just overwhelming. . . I need to stop talking like this. I’m starting to sound like. . . them. Artists can be tolerable. But art people, my god.
“I think sobriety has not been good for him.”
Velvet Buzzaw drops us into the world of artists, dealers, and critics. Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a respected critic (and literally two steps away from Danny DeVito’s Ongo Gablogian), with a good working relationship with Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), of The Haze Gallery. When an old recluse dies in assistant Josephina’s (Zawe Ashton) building, she discovers a horde of masterpieces with no one to claim them. Soon, the deceased artist is the talk of the town, but his paintings harbour a terrible darkness, and it quickly takes hold of everyone involved.
The film begins with the promise of some sort of black comedy. A surreal look at the strange, quirky world of west coast art snobs. What follows is a slow, plodding melodrama about selling stolen paintings, and it all culminates in a half-baked horror story that plays like a strange spin-off of Final Destination. Yet it never quite loses the strange promise it opens with, keeping this weird cynical sense of humour throughout. It’s just not enough to actually elevate the flat story we’re being told. Story is almost too kind. Things just kind of happen. The same thing, over and over for 110 minutes, and then it just kind of ends. It feels like Gilroy had half an idea for a movie, and just started filming until he hit an acceptable run time.
“Something truly goddamn strange is going on!”
Velvet Buzzsaw is not without its qualities. Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a fun, flashy performance as this arrogant asshole of an art critic, actually named Morf. But from the man who gave us Nightcrawler, there’s almost nothing else delivered. It looks bad, it sounds bad, the dialogue is laughably weird even for its subject matter. We’re not even given any kind of satisfying reasoning for the happenings, besides two separate, but equally uninspired scenes of basic horror movie exposition. Abusive childhood, blah blah, criminally insane, yada yada, killer paintings. It’s just all so lazy for such a weirdly put together film. It has a great cast, a semi-proven director, but, at risk of sounding more like these vapid characters, there’s just no passion here.
Overall, Velvet Buzzsaw is not exactly the feather in his cap Gilroy needs right now. He’s two films removed from Nightcrawler now, and neither has lived up to his promised potential. I won’t say it’s a must miss by any means, but there’s just no real pleasure to be derived. Art dealers peddle perception, but Netflix might’ve done better to peddle this mess somewhere else.