Film Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

Written by George Jones

04 Feb 2019

"Toss out tastes and standards? Whisper the truth? What a tragic world that would be."

Velvet Buzzsaw is a nightmarish, muddled and dark slice of the often sycophantic and ever-materialistic art world. Like director Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film Nightcrawler, it paints a vivd picture of an uncomfortable and sordid industry. And though this film is less consistent in its pacing and tone, it’s still a fun watch.

It’s not quite horror, but there are elements of the narrative and cinematography that feel borrowed from contemporary horror cinema (seriously, that Hoboman animatronic is terrifying). The film practically vibrates with atmosphere and tension, eventually unfolding into a half-satire slasher movie criticising the use and abuse of art for personal gain. Practically everyone in the world of Morf Vandewalt is an asshole, save perhaps for Coco, Natalia Dyer’s character with a bad streak for finding dead people. With such a cynical and outside view of the industry, it’s hard to take anything substantial away from it. A lot of the jokes levelled at the art world are entirely anodyne, but if you don’t stop to think about it, it’s still an enjoyable movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely the highlight as Vandewalt. He always seems comfortable falling into his characters, and this is no different. The way he carries himself on screen is mesmerising, from his facial expressions and pompous gait to the way he rests his hands as he talks. His descent into hysteria feels like a wholly natural part of the character, and not something that was forced to follow the script. Alongside Gyllenhaal, a stacked cast including Rene Russo, Natalia Dyer, John Malkovich and an almost unrecognisable Toni Collette all turn in similarly fantastic performances, but the midsection of the film feels too rushed to accommodate them. The pacing is such that each character feels secondary, and in these moments Velvet Buzzsaw ultimately reads more like a season of TV crammed into a montage than a feature film.

The cinematography also lets the film down at times, with shots zooming through glasses of champagne or hanging for too long on unnecessary frames. There are standout moments for sure, but again, inconsistency is the Buzzsaw’s downfall. The soundtrack is similarly messy, with no particularly recognisable themes or motifs throughout. There is a scene in the final act with an immensely satisfying warbling string section that really elevates what’s happening on screen, but moments like that are rare. Even the special effects used to bring the paintings to life are disappointing, striking a visually boring midpoint between realistic and painterly.

It’s unfortunate that the absurd and the violent detract from the quality of the acting and whimsically dark tone of Velvet Buzzsaw, because it’s otherwise a fun watch. The ambition on display is admirable, but the film doesn’t quite live up to its potential and comes across as wanting to be subtler than it actually is. It does have the best use of “fuck” I’ve heard in a while, though.

Edited by Ethan Cumberland |


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