Netflix seems to have this infuriating habit of sandwiching brilliant releases within bouts of mediocrity. After finishing the fantastic The Haunting of Hill House, I perused the new Netflix releases and found Velvet Buzzsaw. Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich and Daveed Diggs? Paintings that murder people? Dan Gilroy, the same director that helmed Nightcrawler? It seemed as if Netflix had another solid win on their hands. How wrong I was. I’m going to issue a strong spoiler alert here, so read on at your own risk!
Velvet Buzzsaw tells the story of an assortment of vice-ridden characters who operate within the seedy and morally corrupt art world. Critics, museum curators and agents alike attempt to navigate the greed-driven world in order to gain the most financial success. However, when the works of Vetril Dease are discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton, known for a plethora of British sitcoms), those fixated with profit for profit’s sake are mercilessly picked off one by one in a series of very bizarre art-based deaths.
This film is by no means a train wreck. It is simply mediocre. Interesting aspects of the film save it from crashing into obscurity, one of the most intriguing being its critique of a world in which money is made through the economy of artistic expression rather than through the appreciation of creative talent. Indeed, the art critics and buyers are painted in a terrible light, their greed being imperative to their lives. The characters of Piers and Damrish played by John Malkovich and Daveed Diggs respectively are also positives as artistic souls in this amalgamation of greed-driven personalities. The two character arcs thankfully prevent the film from regressing into tragic territory.
Following an initial viewing of the film, I sought the view of many film critics to see the general reaction to Velvet Buzzsaw. Mass opinion is entirely divided. It currently holds a 65% on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, which means that only about a third of all reviewers would call Velvet Buzzsaw a good film. I watched a video created by YouTube channel FoundFlix (one of the leading current minds when it comes to the horror genre) and was found that he was ultimately quite lenient with the film, discussing how it is very experimental and would not do well with a cinematic release. Whilst it is imperative to support experimental filmmaking, it seems apparent that the experimental nature of Velvet Buzzsaw is not the main reason mainstream viewers would react negatively to the brash content.
Furthermore, whilst Gyllenhaal’s acting is as impressive as ever, there is an unfortunate aspect in regard to his characterization. Gyllenhaal’s character, Morf Vandewalt, (baring a suitably ridiculous name) begins the narrative in a seemingly committed relationship with his boyfriend, Ed. However, it does not take him long to stray into the arms of Josephine and begin an affair. The prevailing issue here is the committal to the ongoing meta-narrative of the promiscuous bisexual. If Gilroy wished to include an interesting bisexual character, he could at least prevent the character from being imbued with homophobic stereotypes.
Aside from this problematic portrayal, Velvet Buzzsaw is riddled with unexplainable plot holes. One of these insane plot holes is the idea that Vetril Dease, in imbuing his paintings with his blood, has attached his vengeful spirit to said paintings. Not only is this entirely unestablished in the mythos of the world, the vengeful Dease spirit makes no sense. It is claimed that Dease wanted his paintings destroyed after his death – if this is the case, he would be thwarting his own mission to attack the art world. If his paintings are destroyed, then he cannot wreak havoc; so then why would the man request the destruction of his supernatural weapons?
If you don’t mind abstract concepts and plot holes galore, Velvet Buzzsaw is worth a watch. Visually, it’s brilliant and the utilization of various works of art is done in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Yes, this film is far more Buzzsaw than it is Velvet but it’s on Netflix, so if you need something silly to put on while you write that paper or do your reading, this is a superb choice.