I encourage different. Movies that are unique or ambitious aren’t innately good (some are rather awful), but I will always champion a messy movie that swings for the fences over a mildly entertaining mediocrity. So surely Velvet Buzzsaw would be a breath of fresh air, right? An arthouse horror film literally about arthouse horror is a premise so bizarre that it might just be crazy enough to work (and if that wasn’t enough to make me intrigued, this features writer/director Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal collaborating once again after the superb Nightcrawler.)
I was wrong.
Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t a bad movie, but it’s a frustrating movie for countless reasons. More than anything, it is lacking in nearly any semblance of personality, as outside of a great opening credits sequence, a movie about killer paintings (killer paintings!) almost feels as uninspired and cliche as the 10,000 exorcism movies that release each year. The horror elements are few and far between, and the “scares” that do occur amount to little more than shocking spurts of gore reminiscent of a campy B-movie. Those types of movies have their place, but Velvet Buzzsaw doesn’t even allow itself to have fun with its material, which results in a movie that’s simply boring to watch. It doesn’t function much better as an art satire, either, as it ultimately can’t amount to anything more substantive than “commercialism is bad” and “critics are pretentious.” Nearly every character is one-dimensional, inept, or unlikable, which only hinders the dull conversations and the stakes behind the forgettable deaths. The satirical aspect of the movie rarely flows with the horror aspects, so the final product feels more like a jumbled mess than a movie with a clear identity. Perhaps this could be forgiven if each part was great in its own right, but that’s far from the case; these are two half-baked ideas that feel like they belong in entirely different movies. It’s unfortunate that all of this detracts from Gyllenhaal’s unsurprisingly great performance. He continues to prove himself to be one of the most versatile actors working today, and it’s clear that he had a lot of fun with the role, but his charm isn’t enough to save a movie that’s so desperately lacking in energy. It tries so hard to convince you that it’s interesting, but it never is willing to get crazy enough to fulfill its promise. When the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think…that was it?
It’s ironic that this movie pokes fun at critics’ pretension and arrogance regarding the meaning of art, because I feel like Velvet Buzzsaw is the result of an overconfident, self-important artist who tries (and fails) to paint radically different paintings in the same canvas.
Photo credit: Netflix