By Carmen Saffioti
Published: February 27th, 2019
The much-anticipated Netflix Original Movie “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a sharp satire of the bourgeoisie art world, but it is barely a comedy. The thriller horror is centered around the lives of a famous art critics Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), Art collector Rhodora (Rene Russo), and her assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton).
Josephina stumbles upon a dead unknown artist’s apartment to find captivating paintings. While the art world is amazed by this discovery, they soon discover the art has a sinister mind of its own. There is no shortage of violence in this movie as many characters meet a bloody end. However, that is not my problem with the film. “Velvet Buzzsaw” brings up many different critiques of the pretentious art world, but fails to resolve the critiques with nuanced themes. Clearly, this film believes it is deeper in meaning than it actually is.
The acting in this film ranges from brilliantly absurd, like Jake Gyllenhaal in most of his films, to awkward and almost cringe worthy. The most memorable performances were done by Zawe Ashton as Josephina and Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf. Both of these characters were in an intense and strange romantic relationship, Jake Gyllenhaal did an excellent job of portraying a man, who identified as gay, falling in love with a woman. This strange occurrence provoked intense confusion in Morf and his confliction was portrayed with nuance. Josephina, on the other hand, goes from being an insecure assistant who is in love to being an aloof top player in the art world. Zawe Ashton plays this part pretty well, albeit with some awkwardness.
Between the first and second half of the film there is a major shift. The first part of the film, or the better part, focuses in on characterization and digs deep into major themes like the worth of art and the problems with the art world. The second part should have developed these issues more or resolved them all together. Instead audiences got gruesome, and sometimes comical killings of the characters one by one. While this was somewhat entertaining, it would have been much better if this movie focused less on the generic horror aspects, and stuck to its unique beginning with some horror elements worked in. With the way it is, the film feels completely hallow and themes that it established feels silly by the end.
This is not Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, which is surprising considering how much better his other films are. Audiences may recognize similar elements in “Velvet Buzzsaw” to Gilroy’s other thriller: Nightcrawler, which also stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Gilroy’s style is ambitious and it is clear that he has a lot to say, however he needs to work on his storytelling techniques in order to find a balance between the themes he brings and the thriller aspects of the film.