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FilmSoc Reviews: Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy)

Posted by FilmSoc on Thu, 07-02-2019

by Kieran O'Brien

Jake Gyllenhaal returning to work with his Nightcrawler director, Dan Gilroy, for a horror film was an extremely exciting prospect. Nightcrawler is simply one of the best films of the last decade. It’s a shame then, that Velvet Buzzsaw is unfocused at best, and flat-out boring at worst.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, an art critic working in the modern-day LA art scene, but contrary to promotional material and Netflix billing, he is not our main character. In fact, nobody is our main character. Try watching the movie (but actually, don’t) and try to figure out who, exactly, is supposed to be the hero of this story. There are, to my count, nine different characters that the movie oscillates between, each as dislikable as the next (except for Natalia Dyer’s character. If the whole movie was told through her eyes, this film might have been a masterpiece).

Velvet Buzzsaw starts off suffering from a serious case of A.D.D., and not just in terms of character-focus. In the opening twenty minutes, characters spoke with such a frenetic speed (all in L.A. art-lingo, mind you) that I had trouble understanding the characters’ relationships and power-dynamics. Shots jumped around at an alarming rate, and all I wanted was for the film to slow down, take a breath, and tell me what it’s all about. Be careful what you wish for.

This is a supernatural horror movie, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The first real taste of the strange and gruesome, the inciting incident supposed to draw you into the movie, comes roughly forty-five minutes in. It is a frankly weird moment involving monkeys that does not make sense given later events of the film. Before this, we are beaten to boredom with the power-plays, relationship statuses, and shallow personalities of competing gallery owners, artists, and art-buyers. The first half of the movie is a mess. We’re supposed to feel uneasy about some paintings Josephina (Zawe Ashton) comes to own when her elderly neighbour dies, but the film is so scatterbrained it’s difficult to invest. Many scenes are also backed by the most inane, plink-plonking score. It’s enough make you want to mute the film.

John Malkovich is also in this movie, but I really couldn’t tell you why. He’s just there sometimes. There’s some very glaring logical flaws here, too. At one point a character goes missing and apart from one character finding out about it in the next scene, he is never heard from, or cared about, by anyone, ever again. Other times, characters make very stupid choices in the usual horror-movie manner that is just frustrating to watch, especially coming from such a talented director.

The film comes to life a little in the last twenty minutes, but by then it’s too late. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is brilliant fun, and so is Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Hereditary), but nobody else really stands out. The production design and costume is very impressive, but it does little to help the dragging story. There might be some subtext in the film about how it’s wrong to make money from art, but it’s a lesson none of the characters learn, and certainly is not the central theme that is holding the film together. Because nothing is holding this film together.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a disappointing continuation of Jake Gyllenhaal and Dan Gilroy’s working relationship. FIlled with shallow characters and aimless plot, it is worth steering clear of this film

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