Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich, Mig Macario
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
113 mins. Rated R for violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and brief drug use.
Velvet Buzzsaw surprised everyone when its first trailer aired. I had heard of the project but little more the fact that Writer/Director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Roman J. Israel, Esq.) was working on it. The trailer seemingly presented the film as a satirical look at the art world and its critics before diving off the deep end into straight-up horror, something I did not expect. While the finished film struggles between these two halves, it’s overall a fun and stylized ride.
Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain, The Sisters Brothers) is a scathingly high-brow art critic who, frustrated with his sex life with his current partner, strikes up a romantic entanglement with friend Josephina (Zawe Ashton, Blitz, Guerilla). When Josephina finds a dead artist in her apartment building, she steals his paintings. The artist’s work fascinates the critics and artists of the scene with the sheer quantity of creations he has, and Morf’s inner circle profit from his work, but then people start dying in a myriad of strange ways, all surrounding the artist. As Morf and the others attempt to uncover the mystery of the dead artist, they learn that they are quickly running out of time.
The first half of Velvet Buzzsaw is a critique and satire about the nature of the art world and the critics within it. It’s a strong setup for the film and establishes our characters pretty nicely as people who have murky respect for one another as long as it doesn’t conflict with their own personal goals. The big problem with the narrative is that transition to the second half of the film. Dan Gilroy is an excellent storyteller, but he misses the mark with the horror elements of the film. The satire is strong, the horror is weak and cliché. It’s missing that flavor that I know he is capable of. Nightcrawler has elements of horror but Velvet Buzzsaw trips over itself trying to get there.
The film has some strong performances, particularly from Gyllenhaal and Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, TV’s Wanderlust). Gyllenhaal plays himself with both likable and unlikable traits. He isn’t afraid to be an asshole. Collette’s Gretchen is someone climbing to where she wants to be who finds quickly the monstrous qualities that she has within her. It’s a good outing for the Academy Award-snubbed actress.
John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich, Bird Box) appears in the film as Piers, an artist worried he has lost his touch. His character is like so many others in the film in that he is great in the satirical sense but doesn’t have much to do in the latter portion of the film.
Overall, the horror in the film is fun when it works, but too often it doesn’t. Velvet Buzzsaw is still worth your time with another great outing for Gyllenhaal and Collette, and horror fans might be willing to overlook some of the problems with the second half. I was able to, and I found that I enjoyed the film altogether, but it’s perhaps Gilroy’s most messy film as a director.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, click here.