Velvet Buzzsaw Review: This Netflix film is less serious satire and more pulpy fun
Director Dan Gilroy teams up with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, and a brilliant ensemble cast, to give us an enjoyable and funny slasher film set in the contemporary art world
Going into Velvet Buzzsaw, I had only a vague idea of what it was about. I wanted to avoid spoilers and so only knew that it was some sort of satire on the art world meets horror. I was in for quite a surprise. Technically, you could say it's both those things, but it's also a mix of a lot else. And mostly, it's just a lot of fun.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton
This Netflix release has director Dan Gilroy teaming up with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. While in that film he took on sensational local television news, here it is the contemporary art world and the eco system surrounding it. What's common to both is the broad satire and dark comedy that permeates them. There's nothing subtle here. I mean, the characters have names like Rhodora Haze, Jon Dondon and Morf Vandewalt, for crying out loud! And there's even a scene where someone mistakes a literal pile of garbage for a piece of art. So if you're looking for a scathing satire on the art world, this is certainly not the film for you.
What this is, however, is gloriously pulpy fun. It's essentially a slasher film set in this snobbish world of art meets commerce. A gallery owner's ambitious assistant discovers a stash of art work left behind--with explicit instructions that it be destroyed--by her lately deceased neighbour. With a set up like that, you pretty much know what will follow. And sure enough, it does. What makes Velvert Buzzsaw enjoyable though, is the undercurrent of dark humour and the inventive ways Gilroy (who is also credited as the writer) finds to kill off (most of) his ensemble cast.
This cast, aside from Gyllenhaal and Russo, includes the likes of Toni Collette (she of Hereditary fame, giving a gleefully over-the-top performance here as the art curator, Gretchen), a sombre John Malkovich, and a host of other excellent performers, who all lend a solid hand to hold up this film.
While Russo ably plays the aforementioned gallery owner, Rhodora Haze, Velvert Buzzsaw--much like Nightcrawler--is Jake Gyllenhaal's show. He hams it up gloriously as the snooty art critic Morf Vandewalt. This is the sort of movie that shows us how pretentious this man is by having him tell the woman he is interested in that her skin is "the most beautiful cross between almond and saddle brown" and later telling her that "cornsilk" is a great colour on her. He also gets to spout lines like, "I further the realm I analyse," and grin smugly when someone calls him "god" of the art world. That Gyllenhaal is able to make us feel some sympathy for his character despite all this, is proof of what a good actor he is.
My favourite line in the film though belongs to another character. The "F*** me!" from personal assistant Coco is the one that had me practically clapping with joy. When you watch the film, you'll know why. It's the sort of humour that especially appeals to me: delectable black comedy sans pretension.
So go on and watch Velvet Buzzsaw, for the dark comedy, for the pulpy horror, and for all those delightful performances. It may not be high art, not even close, but it sure is a lot of fun.