In 2014, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” exposed us to the depravity that comes from the seedy underbelly of exposé journalism. No, I’m not talking about “fake news” but the depravity that comes from violence and sex that you might find in a National Enquirer story.
“Nightcrawler” was incredibly intense. As I watched the film, I was on the edge of my seat. Watching Jake Gyllenhaal descend into the depths of his ridiculously creepy madness, the urge to take a shower became more and more prevalent. It’s been five years, but I want to say I took a shower when I got home that night.
Netflix original “Velvet Buzzsaw” is from the same director and even stars some of the same stars. Gyllenhaal again claims top billing, although I can’t say he’s the central focus. He stars as Morf Vandewalt, an art critic who is highly respected and considered to be a “god” in his field. Rene Russo — who’s married to writer-director Dan Gilroy — has a prominent role, as well. She stars as Rhodora, the owner of an art gallery whose sole focus is dollar signs.
It’s hard to classify exactly what “Velvet Buzzsaw” is, even though it’s intended to be a satirical supernatural thriller. It doesn’t really have the same thriller aspect as “Nightcrawler.” Instead, “Velvet Buzzsaw” tries to be a supernatural mystery that lampoons the art industry and commercialism.
When an obscure, unknown artist dies, his work is stolen from his apartment and becomes a hot item in the art world. Unfortunately, a supernatural entity isn’t a big fan of the greed that those in the art world seem to have in high doses.
The film has a stellar cast. In addition to Gyllenhaal and Russo, the film also features John Malkovich as an artist dealing with artist’s block, Toni Collette as an art adviser with a bad wig (I don’t think it’s a wig in the movie) and Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton” fame as an artist from the streets who has the potential to hit it big.
Here’s the thing. There are elements of this film that are supposed to be scary. There are dolls that open their eyes, paintings that move in eerie ways and of course, deaths that are meant to be horrific.
The problem is that none of these moments are really scary. It’s like an entrée at a fancy restaurant that is more focused on plating and presentation than fulfillment and taste.
Maybe that’s because “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t really know what it is. Gyllenhaal plays his role as I believe it’s written, but unfortunately, he’s a bi, possibly gay, very effeminate art critic who can not only make or break your career, but he’ll tell you you’re wearing the wrong shoes when he does it. Then again, he basically wears the same outfit — a navy suit and white shirt — for most of the film, so I’m not sure you can count on his opinion.
Beyond this confusion, there’s nothing really scary here. I’m an adamant non-fan of horror films, but I wasn’t even scared or creeped out by anything in the film. I was fine when people were dying in unconventional ways, paintings came to life, and many other things were thrown at us. It’s just not a scary movie.
I’d like to say that “Velvet Buzzsaw” succeeds on a thriller level, period, but I’d be lying.
The film doesn’t know what it is. It tries to be something artsy and different, but it’s still a film that puts the meek, nerdy girl in baggy sweaters and glasses (Natalia Dyer) who’s just there to discover dead bodies. There’s honestly nothing original here.
Everything is also downplayed. The murders aren’t gruesome. The sex, which is rare, is PG. There are a couple of moments of male buttocks, but I’m pretty certain that’s PG-13 by today’s standards, as well.
I don’t know, y’all. Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” left my skin crawling. It left a mark. It was like kissing a stranger in a dark club when you can’t see their face. You’re left wondering “What just happened?” as you make plans to take a shower immediately, but it’s not a moment you’re going to forget. The movie was thrilling and wrong on so many levels.
“Velvet Buzzsaw” just tries so hard. It wants to be artsy and on point. Unfortunately, it’s all sizzle and no steak, a literal snooze-fest. Just ask my boyfriend who fell asleep at least three times. Nothing interested him, and I daresay that nothing interested me either.