'Velvet Buzzsaw' (2019) Movie Review
A Slasher Inside of High Society
Velvet Buzzsaw comes from the mind of writer-director, Dan Gilroy, the man that brought us Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel, Esq. However, Velvet Buzzsaw seems to have been a long lost passion project for Gilroy that was only resurrected recently through the assistance of Netflix as it was originally turned down by Warner Bros. years ago. And I can certainly see in some aspects of the film how this was an inspired work from a young artist that wanted to lash out against the pompous and entitled upper class snobs, a character definition that is deeply rooted into the majority of the film’s ensemble cast. If this were played more as satire, poking fun at the snobbery of the pretentious art world with a Paul Verhoeven-esque approach to the direction, then I could easily see this group of characters working. Unfortunately that isn’t the direction that Velvet Buzzsaw takes, as it seems to be more focused on being a lost paranormal slasher flick from the mid-2000s that heavily revolves around unlikable characters that die one by one in gruesome fashion. Think along the lines of a Final Destination and A Nightmare on Elm Street hybrid, only if the cast were playing rich douchebags with no charisma interjected into their personalities whatsoever. Not that the cast doesn’t do a good job in their roles, the acting is actually very well done; the problem lies more within the characters they play just being a bunch of jerks that I feel no investment in while the movie seems to be under the impression that I’m supposed to care about them.
When an extensive series of paintings from a deceased, elderly man are discovered by a young woman who works in the art world, she introduces the works to the art museum she works for. As she and her group of like-minded associates reap the benefits of the old man’s paintings, it seems that these are no ordinary works of art, as they are actually haunted. Art itself comes to life and begins killing these people one by one in nightmarish ways. Driving everyone completely mad as they trying figuring out what is going on and how they may be able to survive.
There Are Positives
I’d like to say, first of all, I was never bored by Velvet Buzzsaw. Even with all of its flaws, there are a number of decent qualities that I can say about it as a whole that kept me entertained. Such as the entire cast all do what they can with the material, they are all acting terrifically. Jake Gyllenhaal as the overly pretentious art critic, Morf Vanderwalt (even his name is overly pretentious), did come across that Gyllenhaal was aware that he was playing a stereotype and so he played to that with his best efforts. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, there isn’t any real problems in terms of the acting necessarily, as they seem to be following the direction given. This is also a fairly well made film, particularly for being a Netflix Original that is certainly made on a smaller budget, the filmmakers seem to do what they can and do it pretty well; the cinematography, the effects work, and the set designs are all visually appealing and convincing. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the crew that is sleepwalking through any of this. The nightmarish sequences in which the art work comes to life in order to kill these people are actually pretty cool to watch and even somewhat suspenseful in certain cases. I found it enjoyable to see the brutal fashions that these characters were killed in. Even the premise itself I do see a lot of potential for as there could have been a lot of social commentary and satire unleashed inside of this pretentious art world portrayed here.
But There Are Negatives
The biggest problem in Velvet Buzzsaw honestly is in its characters, like I said previously, everyone is playing a overly pretentious snob with no charming qualities at all. Because of that, I didn’t care if anyone lived or died. I was rather annoyed with these people and couldn’t wait for some of the to get what’s coming quite honestly. While that was probably the intent of the writer to make all of these people such obnoxious backstabbing monsters, there needs to be some sort of redeeming qualities with these characters in order for me to give a crap. Whether it be in the performances supplying the right amount of charisma in order for me to be drawn to them more, maybe if the writing provided these stereotypes with more depth or possibly more substantial character arcs I could find myself more invested in what is happening with them, or if the tone had provided a dark comedic approach of satire then I could enjoy these people being cartoonish snobs. But none of that is really present here, so what I’m left with is a group of artsy fartsy assholes that keep doing douchey things to one another while I’m stuck with them until the movie generously gives them the axe. That is a major problem that used to be heavily present about ten to fifteen years ago in slasher films with its characters, only less artsy back then. Almost like the writers only want to provide a story that centers on the most vile and irritating group that they could create in order to either not have any relatable character to avoid upsetting anyone when they die or to have the audience route for their characters to be killed. Regardless, that means that I have to sit and watch this prickish group stir the pot with all of their lame drama and whine about the most mundane topics in their privileged lives.
There’s a relationship that brews between Morf (Gyllenhaal) and the woman who finds the haunted paintings, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) that really goes nowhere and provides nothing for their characters. If anything, it gives more reasons not to like these people as they continue to be atrocious human beings to one another. Daveed Diggs and John Malkovich are also briefly introduced into the film sporadically throughout, here and there, but are severely wasted. They are given nothing to work with as they both play striving artists, Diggs being near the start of his career while Malkovich seems to be approaching the close of it. There is something that could have been easily said and done with these two, yet they were there to pad the film out to get closer to that two-hour runtime and that’s about it sadly. The only decent human being throughout this whole film seems to be that of the character Coco, played by Natalia Dyer, and she also is barely seen. She may have ten to fifteen minutes of screen time and that’s me being generous. The only likable and relatable person in the whole cast is practically a footnote in the screenplay and it does get a little agitating to not be given any main character to route for or even like.
The pacing also suffers from these characters because it takes over thirty minutes to actually get to the film’s main plot of the haunted paintings, it spends its entire first act solely focused on these two-dimensional socialites practically masturbating to every word that comes out of their own mouths. If that thirty minutes was cut down in half to actually get the premise introduced sooner then I might not have so much of a problem with it, but it takes its sweet time with ‘delving’ into these people’s lives and I simply did not care about them. And after the horror tone finally wedges its way in, there were still long spurts of time where we have to wait for these haunted paintings to do anything again; which once anyone’s number was up the character became a total idiot just to basically allow themselves to be murdered. However, I was able to manage to find some things to latch onto; whether it be in the filmmaking aspects or specific character moments that would shine a bit more, sometimes even the narrative would develop the backstory of the deceased painter and I would be a little more intrigued. I usually found something to keep myself entertained by or interested in throughout the movie.
It’s Not Terrible, Just Slightly Disappointing
Velvet Buzzsaw is a ball of potential that apparently took nearly fifteen years to finally be produced, but I think there needed to be more love put into the personalities of the characters rather than the extreme cynical attitudes given only to kill them off in horrendous ways. I understand the thought process here of why, but it made for a less than enjoyable sit. I don’t hate this movie though, I thought that there were moments of entertainment that worked for me and I never exactly hated my time watching the film. But I did hate the characters. Most of them anyway. So this is a little tougher to recommend; on one hand, this is a well made horror film with stylish dreamlike death sequences. On the other hand, everyone on screen is a d*ck. Although it is on Netflix, so if you already have the service then it’s completely free to stream. However, that is two hours that you have to spend wanting these people to just die. So… yeah. It’s tough to say whether or not it’s really worth the watch. Yes, I had way more criticisms about Velvet Buzzsaw than positives, but the positives still were impressive and I felt worth seeing. In the end, I guess it’s really up to you, my fellow readers. Take everything I’ve said into consideration before deciding whether or not to view it on your own terms. It’s not great, it’s not exactly terrible. It has some cool kills and special effects, but you want to strangle everyone yourself. I wish you luck!
That’s All Folks…
Well, that wraps things up with my thoughts on Velvet Buzzsaw. Have you seen the film? What are your thoughts on the movie? Also, is there any films that you would like for me to critique next? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you enjoyed my review then please do me a little favor and share this article around the social media world as that helps me out immensely! Thank you for reading and have yourselves and pleasant day!
© 2019 John Plocar