One thing is to be made clear with Velvet Buzzsaw – it is not what it seems to be. The trailer for the Netflix Original may indicate that it is a horror, and while it may contain some horror elements, right the way through the film it feels more like a thriller. The film follows art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his proteges as they discover an inspired, recently deceased artist, and try to guide his work to posthumous success (earning money along the way) while learning of the artist’s darker past and watching as reality bends to punish those who refute his dying wish.
One of the first things you notice about this film is the way it looks- and to start with, the film looks like it’s shot like a TV show. Everything is over-exposed and the cinematography is quite lifeless, and in a film about art, you’d certainly expect a lot more effort to be put into the visual department (safe for the actual on-screen art and the opening credits sequence, which are equally creative and colourful). Gyllenhaal’s Morf is introduced immediately with a reserved performance to begin with but as the plot unfolds, his character’s transition into depravity and lunacy is performed brilliantly. There’s a surprisingly large cast of characters who are given equal spotlight, which makes balancing the film a difficulty, which leads to the feeling that the film is a touch too long. Coming in at just under two hours, it’s a lengthier watch, and it could well have had at least a good ten minutes shaved off it.
Throughout the film, a few horror elements are shown in a recluse manner, but there’s a couple of graphic deaths throughout the film that feel quite uninspired and hammered on. It wastes its (and your) time to get to grips with one character in particular that don’t contribute a lot to the main plot, only for them to die very soon after. The film isn’t devoid of consequence, but some of the supernatural elements are slightly underwhelming and uninteresting (and for a film that lends itself to the implications of the art and visual worlds, this is quite disappointing).
One thing to be made clear for sure though- Velvet Buzzsaw is not a terrible film. Most of the writing is quite investing and some of the performances are great, but the two hour experience is disappointing in most departments. Gyllenhaal so nearly brings it back, but some of the cheesiness and weak visuals leave a block in the road. If you were interested in the trailer then it’s still worth checking out to see how the plot is executed, but everything else could well be quite forgettable.
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A win for Gyllenhaal, but not for many others- there are great ideas hidden here, albeit behind some poor execution.