Netflix film “Velvet Buzzsaw” consists of two different parts which do not fit well with each other. While it begins as a broad satire on the world of contemporary art business, the movie eventually becomes a creepy supernatural horror tale as taking several darker narrative turns, and the resulting discord between these two contrasting parts is often too jarring in my trivial opinion.
In the beginning, we meet a prominent LA art critic named Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is doing his job as usual while visiting a gallery in Miami, Florida. Like many others around him, he is looking for anything interesting enough to be the next big thing in their field, and Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), an influential art gallery owner in LA, is certainly interested in whatever happens to draw his attention.
Not long after Vandewalt and Haze return to LA, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who is one of Haze’s employees and is also Vandewalt’s close friend, comes across something quite interesting by coincidence. When she is about to leave her apartment building in the morning, she finds the dead body of one of her neighbors, and then she discovers heaps of paintings after going inside that dead man’s apartment. While she learns later that he wanted to remove and destroy all of his artworks, she cannot help but fascinated with his artworks which look very striking and mesmerizing to say the least, so she decides to bring all of his artworks to her apartment instead of throwing them away.
After incidentally learning of what Josephina has, Haze instantly sees a rare big business opportunity from those artworks, and then she shows some of them to Vandewalt. Quite impressed by the strong sense of artistry felt from them, Vandewalt becomes curious about who that dead guy is, but there is not much information about him, and that certainly makes Vandewalt more curious.
Anyway, those artworks in question become an instant sensation once they are exhibited at Haze’s gallery, and many art collectors are eager to buy them from Haze, who is happy to sell some of them while keeping others in storage for more profit in the future. In case of Vandewalt, he is planning to write a book about the art and life of that dead guy, and it goes without saying that the book will surely make him more prominent than before.
However, the situation subsequently becomes very ominous as bad things begin to happen. After one of Haze’s employees suddenly disappears, a couple of terrible incidents happen, and Vandewalt subsequently comes to learn very disturbing things about that dead guy, whose life was not exactly ordinary from the beginning. In addition, he often experiences visual and auditory hallucinations, and that makes him all the more nervous about whatever is going on around him.
Around that point, we are supposed to care about what will happen to Vandewalt and some others around him, but we remain rather distant to these characters instead as the screenplay by director/writer Dan Gilroy struggles to balance itself between satire and horror. It often feels uneven and incoherent as wildly swinging back and forth between its broad satire and stark horror, so we do not get involved much in the story, and the movie becomes more uninteresting as going down further along with bland horror genre clichés during its second half.
Anyway, the movie is not wholly without good elements to be appreciated. For example, I especially enjoyed several satiric moments on contemporary art, and they somehow took me back to my baffling experience with the contemporary art section of the Art Institute of Chicago in April 2010. To be frank with you, as appreciating all those modern artworks in that section, I often wondered whether they looked profoundly simple or simply profound, and I have not still figured out which one is true.
The movie is mostly solid in technical aspects. Cinematographer Robert Elswit, who previously collaborated with Gilroy in Gilroy’s debut film “Nightcrawler” (2014), provides a number of stylish moments to notice, and he did a good job of establishing the slick urban atmosphere around the characters in the film. Although it has some tonal problem just like the film itself, the score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is effective on the whole, and I like how it brings some cheerful spirit to several comic scenes in the film.
In case of the main cast members of the film, most of them are under-utilized while stuck in their caricature roles. While Jake Gyllenhaal, who was chillingly fantastic as the sociopathic hero of “Nightcrawler”, has a few nice moments to show his funny side, his performance becomes less interesting as the movie cheerlessly pushes his character toward its predictable finale, and the other notable performers including Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, and John Malkovich simply fill their underdeveloped roles as much as demanded.
Overall, “Velvet Buzzsaw” did not bore me much, but I was not satisfied enough to recommend it to you. Sure, comedy and horror are often not far from each other, but the movie does not succeed well in its attempt to mix these two genres together, and we are only left with a misfire which could be better if it were more balanced and focused.