One of the latest films in the seemingly unending slew of original content from Netflix is “Velvet Buzzsaw.” Jake Gyllenhaal (“Donnie Darko,” “Nightcrawler”) and Zawe Ashton (“Nocturnal Animals,” “Sherlock”) star in this art-world centered horror-slasher-drama. What the movie lacks in cohesive direction – it could fit in just about any of the categories on Netflix – it more than makes up for in performance. The portrayals by Gyllenhaal and Ashton are sincere and excellent. Toni Collette, Renee Russo and John Malkovich are also just as intense and engaging.
A couple of Netflix natives, Natalia Dyer and Daveed Diggs, from “Stranger Things” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” round out the impressive ensemble cast. The story itself centers around a group of art collectors and their relationships, or lack thereof, within the community they inhabit. Where does all of the death and horror fit into this high-powered world of art collecting? This is the same question posed, and somewhat answered, by writer and director Dan Gilroy.
Gilroy is able to contrive a beautiful juxtaposition with the dark, gritty atmosphere that contrasts the bright and sunny streets of Los Angeles in “Velvet Buzzsaw.” An impressive feat considering that a prominent character in this movie is a Styrofoam tray filled with coffee cups from Starbuck’s. The mood and tone grow creepier and creepier as you sink deeper into the story. Stylistically, “Velvet Buzzsaw” scores high and sets the bar in this arena.
On the other hand, “Velvet Buzzsaw” struggles with maintaining a coherent structure. The story will leave you feeling slightly confused as to why all of the death even happens in the first place. (Spoilers ahead! Close your eyes while you read this next part.)
The movie does not do a great job of explaining why all of these paintings are murdering people. There’s some talk of the unknown artist who created the artwork as having tortured and murdered some people, like his father, because he was abused. The movie spends hardly any time connecting these actions to the supernatural pieces of art gaining sentience and, as in one case, cutting the arm off of one of the characters.
Like any good artist, he paints what he knows with a medium he understands, such as blood and human flesh. Not that an explanation of why these paintings, sculptures and films are coming to life and selectively murdering those that they feel have profited from their existence is absolutely necessary. Suspension of disbelief is absolutely necessary, though. The reasoning of this horror revolves around an esoteric idea that evil is causing the murder spree. The film would have benefited from a deeper exploration on the supposedly main plot point.
(The spoilers are over so you can open your eyes now). “Velvet Buzzsaw” does a great job of tackling the topic of consumerism in art. The film explores all of the nooks and some of the crannies of the havoc that the almighty dollar places on the value of art. Who owns the art and what makes a piece of art valuable are other aspects that are explored throughout.
This is also a great film for those that are fans of campy slasher flicks, which the film seems to be edited toward but with too good of an acting performance to be considered campy in any real way. This may be due to an effort to make the film be viewed as more of a satire than a drama. There’s also some nudity, a lot of butts and some intense sex scenes. Nothing on a “Westeros” or “Westworld” level, but this is probably a movie to skip when you’re visiting back home with the family.
I would definitely give “Velvet Buzzsaw” a stream if you’re looking for a good slasher movie with brief social commentary and an exploration of interesting themes, even if those explorations aren’t exactly deep. Rotten Tomatoes rates this film at about a 66 percent, but I’d give it a passing grade