Velvet Buzzasw is a supernatural thriller of sorts set in the art world. A gallery assistant finds the body of her neighbor and upon looking into his apartment, she sees it's filled with art. The art is a hit and a sensation, but the artist never intended for it to be shown and when horrifying accidents befall those involved in its sale, those that profited from the sales start to look over their shoulders. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Zawe Ashton. It is written and directed by Dan Gilroy.
I will preface this critique by pointing out I wish Rene Russo was given more scripts. She's been relegated to a strange background presence where people look up and say, "Hey, that's Rene Russo," but she's not leading as she should be. This was something I thought about watching Velvet Buzzsaw, not because she's great in the role, I just had to think of something to get my mind off of how bored I was.
Every filmmaker has a film like Velvet Buzzsaw. They've faced bad press or the critics of their work, "Just don't get it," and so they make something critiquing the critique. Velvet Buzzsaw, fails not spectacularly, but like a paper airplane decorated with the finest magic markers that falls to the ground seconds after take off. It has trappings, but nothing beneath, no great truth to explore.
The characters are caricatures and of course all of them deserve everything that happens to them. They're want money, they're shallow, they snipe each other to get ahead. The only noble people are the artists themselves and the museum acquirers. These are people beyond reproach in all aspects even as they are as affectless as everyone else.
Seriously, every character is so boring. None of them gets beyond one dimensional. There are tidbits that I wish the film wouldn't just approach and drop. Like Rhodora (ugh, these character names are terrible), played by Rene Russo, who was in a punk band before she became an art dealer. Yes, the band's name was Velvet Buzzsaw, the only reference to that name in the movie and there's where my interest stops in her. Then there's Morf (the worst name ever), played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is obviously either bi or pansexual, never really mentioned, but after one scene of him and his boyfriend, Ed (Gilroy obviously ran out of names before this point) he spends the rest of the movie pining over the affectless Josephina (meh) who couldn't seem to express a real emotion to save her life.
The obvious genre Gilroy is attempting is one of a horror film in which the characters are offed by the supernatural force/crazed killer, but there's no tension because no one could care about these people. They are nearly blank slates walking through the screen. There is no tension with the element as they are all too self-absorbed to notice anything off. Gilroy hammers home that these people deserve what's coming to them so much that we shrug our shoulders and agree because we don't care about them. There's nothing given to us to make us care about these archetypes masquerading as distinct characters.
The idea of the supernatural paintings is almost laughable as well because the mechanism is so complicated and yet so fluid in how it works. The paintings made by the dead, crazed artist are not the actual objects that overtly cause the deaths. Somehow, the paintings possess other art around them to do the deeds. Why? Why this device? Why aren't the possessed paintings doing their own dirty work? It doesn't make a lot of sense as the paintings do actually possess some life to them. Then there's the odd score. It sounds like a comedy score. I sincerely thought based on the music that the Ghostbusters or Scooby-Doo and the gang were going to pop around the corner and, like, totally solve the mystery.
I wanted to like this movie as Gilroy has plumbed the depths of morality well in Nightcrawler and to a lesser extent Roman J. Israel, Esq. He attempts it here, but he paints himself into this limited space about art as commerce with emphasis on the sprawling nature of it that he lacks the clear and engaging character driven narrative he's best at providing. I recommend instead of wasting your time with this one, seek out Nightcrawler, but if you must, Velvet Buzzsaw is streaming now on Netflix.