A slasher satire of art criticism, Velvet Buzzsaw promises bite, blood, and a true element of danger – even if the pretentious victims are less than sympathetic. However, after an explosive trailer drop and Sundance premiere, Dan Gilroy fails to deliver on the premise’s potential. The supernatural horror elements are underbaked, the satire just short of hilariously biting, and by the time the credits roll no twists have occurred that were not already hinted at in the trailer. With non-existent stakes and a lack of commitment to the boldness required by its genres, this idiosyncratic thriller turns stale.
While its plot and tone disappoint, its A-list cast provide enough entertainment to lift the film to at least momentary memorability. Jake Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully-named Morf Vanderwalt is capricious, self-assured, and endlessly watchable, working a compelling double-act with his acerbic agent and confidante, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo). Their respective revelations surrounding the murderous paintings provide the film’s most believable dramatic momentum. Zawe Ashton provides the emotional core, although her motivations are erratically written, which undercuts engagement in the film’s final act. Colette brings unstoppable charisma to her cutthroat gallery owner. Daveed Diggs is underutilised but provides a grounded humanity as an emerging artist, and the framing of his understated reactions to an absurdly over-the-top confrontation proves the film’s highlight.
Lastly, the film looks very pretty – the California deserts provide an entrancing backdrop to the galleries’ white walls and high ceilings. The meticulous costuming of the art world’s elite adds the requisite glamour that the plot just fails to skewer.
Velvet Buzzsaw, flaws and all, is begging to be absorbed by internet culture, full of moments just waiting to be turned into memes and gifs for Twitter reaction shots. Considering that Netflix created the film for its own internet platform, it hits a point of diminishing returns on the metatheatricality.
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Colette, Natalia Dyer, Tom Sturridge, Daveed Diggs
DIRECTOR: Dan Gilroy
WRITERS: Dan Gilroy
SYNOPSIS: After an artist’s work is posthumously discovered, the high class world of art criticism is rocked by mysterious deaths in this horror satire.