REVIEW: D. Gilroy’s ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

*this review contains spoilers*

Velvet Buzzsaw has been released on February 1 on Netflix. When I first watched the trailer, advertised everywhere, I couldn’t believe that, finally, one of the most famous digital media platforms was that interested in the contemporary artistic world to make it the protagonist of one of its new releases.

And not just a random movie no one cares about, but with a tremendous cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (…do I really have to say who he is?), Toni Colette (Abigail Breslin’s mother in that wonderful movie that is Little Miss Sunshine), Rene Russo (Thor) and Natalia Dyer, also known as Nancy Wheeler from Stranger Things. Oh, and John Malkovich as well! What could possibly go wrong?

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’
© Claudette Barius, Netflix

Actually, a lot. Watching the trailer gave me the idea that the guy that wrote the screenplay – actually the director himself, Dan Gilroy (The Nightcrawler) – wasn’t entirely sure of what he was doing. The trailer itself is divided in two parts, one with club music in the background to introduce the posh and classy environment of art, the second quickly turned into a horror movie, with brief shots of someone being strangled, someone having a car accident and then being kidnapped by monkeys in a painting (yeah, I know what you are thinking), with Gyllenhaal voice in the background explaining/spoiling the whole plot.

A movie like this could only be either a cult or a disappointment, most likely the latter.

But let’s go into details. The first part has tons of promise: it is witty, provocative, it attracts the viewer into this creative nest of vipers showing appreciation for one another only until they find the right way to destroy each others. All the main characters are introduced with an initial scene shot at the Miami Art Basel fair: we see critic Morf Vanderwalt (what a name), played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he peers at arworks behind his stylish glasses, ready to destroy the careers of every artists he is not convinced by, who falls under the charm of Josephina (Zawe Ashton), a really hideous character (believe me) working for Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner and founder of one of the most prominent galleries in LA only looking to make more and more money – the same desire driving all the characters in the movie.

Unfortunately, it seems that Gilroy forgot that characters need to be developed. They are inconsistent and several scenes are illogical and meaningless. First of all, the artist impersonated by John Malkovich, who doesn’t seem to have a precise role in the plot and whose scenes seem to be in the movie for no apparent reason.

Morf sees for the first time Dease’s works

The plot progresses when Josephina casually finds the corpse of her neighbour, who happens to be an artist no one knew about who lived isolated in his apartment, constantly creating new paintings. She sees something in those artworks and takes them home. Vanderwalt judges the canvas as ‘visionary, mesmeric’ and Haze gallery promotes and sells them to the public. The only issue is that Ventril Dease (the dead artist’s name) had left clear instructions that each and every one of his works had to be destroyed and never commercialized.

But, c’mon, there’s so much money to be made! No one cares about his last note.

Gretchen’s arm gets eaten by the Sphere

The artist’s curse (?) starts falling upon all those who have a role in selling his works to the public. Bodies start piling up. First the technician installing his artworks (he’s the one killed by monkeys), then a rival art gallery owner (hanged by a mysterious hand coming out of the ceiling), and then my favourite, Gretchen (Toni Colette), an art advisor who sticks her arm in one of the holes of Sphere, a work of art, and… well, her arm gets severed in a splatter scene that reminded me of Scary Movie. She bloods out on the gallery floor, and the next morning everyone assumes her corpse to be an artwork (a really realistic one).

At this point I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw something at the computer screen. I laughed because the computer wasn’t mine.

The plot then becomes even more clueless, until everyone dies. In the last scene, John Malkovich draws random figures on the sand of an unknown beach, aware that they will disappear as soon as the waves cover them, and BOOM there you have the meaning of the whole movie: art for money is no good. Art for art’s sake is the answer.

John Malkovich drawing on the beach

Even if I still don’t get why an art satire like this had to be disguised as a thriller, I agree, paintings have always had an aura of mystery, let’s only think about Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The movie truly had a lot of potential and Gilroy – or maybe someone else – could have really done a wonderful job with it. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, especially because of those scenes meant to be scary.

An important mention, however, goes to Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the true star: his acting gives visibility to a character that would have otherwise been stagnant, like the others. But unfortunately he is  not enough to make Velvet Buzzsaw a good movie.

Sorry Jake, still waiting for your next good movie…

And you? What did you think of Velvet Buzzsaw? Let me know in the comments below!!

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