Velvet Buzzsaw Review: Rich style, poor substance
As some who absolutely adores Nightcrawler and the dark visual style that feels bone-chillingly real thanks to an electric performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and the vision that comes from writer/director Dan Gilroy, I was more than excited for his newest work, Velvet Buzzsaw. Upon viewing it, though, I left feeling a little mixed as Gilroy struggles to mix his commentary on art with the supernatural horror plot the film intends to bleed in amongst the high-profile personalities and dialogue.
The film follows Morf (Gyllenhaal), a highly established art critic, and his two friends: Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), an art gallery owner, and Josephina (Zawe Ashton). Haze’s assistant. After a neighbor unexpectedly dies, Josephine steals some of the artwork she finds in his apartment and works with Rhodora and Morf to become rich. However, the more their greed grows, the more the art start to literally come alive. So now, they must figure out what is happening as their friends mysteriously die before their fate also falls into jeopardy.
Velvet Buzzsaw definitely has the problem of having much more style over suitable substance. Gilroy brings some stylistically sound moments that lets the film’s horror moments shine. When paintings move or the atmosphere starts to change, it sent chills down my spine and there is a sense of eeriness. A concept like this can come off as corny if done wrong, but Gilroy does enough with it to make create some truly haunting moments.
The aesthetic itself is also stunning and the film has a visual art style that’s both creepy and eye-catching. I really enjoy how the film makes the art feel relevant to the character’s as well as the atmosphere. Sometimes characters would be almost in a trance looking at it and viewers will only be left with their facial expressions to express the horror of what they’re seeing. Frankly, except for the distracting score, the film has an intriguing look to it that isn’t found in most films and tries to capitalize on every chance it gets to make it feel important.
Unfortunately, most of the film doesn’t touch on its horror concept much and viewers are left with the high-profile jargon that the characters bring. The characters definitely have their snobby moments and there is a lot of discussion about what’s important when looking at art. Their discussions can be interesting and give some insights on their personalities, but it’s never so intriguing that it draws you in and it takes too much time away from the film’s horror elements.
The performances are good with Gyllenhaal being an exceptional standout, once again, as he capitalizes on the film’s horror aspects to highlight Morf’s paranoid attitude later in the film. Everyone else is fine, for the most, but there are tons of characters that feel underutilized or left little impact. While the performances are solid, it’s just unfortunate that great acting names like Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, and John Malkovich aren’t really given much to.
The film’s supernatural horror plot also is kind of sidelined for the most part and only really comes in “full-force” in the final act. Honestly, for most of the film, I was kind of unsure how much I actually liked what was happening in the film and kept questioning why all of this was happening. There is very little explanation for why or how this supernatural force is killing and haunting people and the only real explanation we get is: “Well, the guy was clearly crazy or disturbed.” Clearly, the reasoning is along the lines of art being worth more than money, but even when this idea is interesting it’s a little too on the nose for it to leave a surprising impact. So, without a more in-depth explanation to film’s horror elements and entity, they end up being more like a reason to just not have the plot drag as much as it does rather than a pivotal part to Velvet Buzzsaw’s identity.
While Velvet Buzzsaw show some signs of a uniquely scary premise, Gilroy just can’t pull his ideas on the worth of art and a supernatural entity together to give it a lasting impression. There’s definitely something about it that can make it worth an initial watch, but it likely wouldn’t lead anyone to think about what the movie wants to say.