It’s like “Tales from the Crypt” meets “Art Attack.”
I’ve always had a strong interest and passion for drama and music but have never been very fond of visual art. For me, it’s like cooking. I can’t cook so whenever I see someone effortlessly cook something, no matter how basic, I’m blown away. It’s the same with art. It’s all beautiful to me because I have absolutely zero skill in drawing, painting, or sculpting. What I do have skill in though is watching spooky movies about haunted artwork. So when I heard that Netflix was releasing a movie with that exact premise, I knew I had to see Velvet Buzzsaw (2019). Sidenote, I use my talent for watching spooky movies about haunted artwork far more often than I cook. I’m not a very responsible adult.
Directed and written by Dan Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw follows a group of highly-influential figures in the modern art world after one of their own steals a large collection of paintings from recently deceased artist, Ventril Dease. Seeking to profit off the work, they hold an art exhibit of the pieces and begin to sell them. However, when several people associated with the sale of the paintings begin to die in mysterious ways, those remaining begin to suspect that there’s more to the paintings than meets the eye.
Despite being uncultured about visual art, I was extremely excited for this movie based on the premise alone. First of all, I feel like the art world isn’t explored enough in any genre, so diving into its colourful and stylish world was a welcome new experience. Secondly, there’s such an inherent creepiness about art that I’m surprised a movie about possessed paintings hasn’t been made before. Doesn’t it always seem that the eyes of every portrait you pass are following you? The movie starts on a promisingly creepy note with opening credits that are a display of haunting visuals accompanied by an eerie score. I was hopeful that the rest of the movie would be just as spooky but sadly, I was disappointed.
What’s weird about Velvet Buzzsaw is that it doesn’t feel like a movie. From the way it’s shot and how we’re introduced to a plethora of characters and their backstories in the first 10 minutes, the whole thing feels decidedly small-screen and not at all cinematic. You would think that given its streaming platform and the supernatural vibe that Velvet Buzzsaw would be right at home with Netflix originals such as Stranger Things (2016 – present) or The Haunting of Hill House (2018).
Not the case.
As we meet one deliciously pretentious character after another, dressed head to toe in the chicest Miami Beach garb, Velvet Buzzsaw feels more like a soapy CW drama than the work of an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. Though the melodramatic storylines left me unable to seriously care about anyone or anything, I have to applaud Gilroy’s dialogue. Full of cutting lines and deadpan one-liners, when the story itself lulls, you can count on the sharp dialogue to re-focus your attention.
For Velvet Buzzsaw, Gilroy reunites Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, the duo he directed in Nightcrawler (2014), the critically-acclaimed thriller which he also wrote. Nightcrawler was an excellent movie made all the better by how well Gyllenhaal and Russo play off each other, a chemistry that doesn’t go unnoticed in Velvet Buzzsaw. As cold-hearted art critic Morf Vandewalt, and money-hungry gallery owner Rhodora Haze respectively, Gyllenhaal and Russo embrace the decadence and cattiness of the vibrant world Gilroy has created, and they look like they’re enjoying every minute of it. While the entire cast play roles that seem tailor-made for them, Russo especially shines as the glamorous and bitchy Rhodora. In 2019 I am officially starting the petition for Rene Russo to either be in more movies, or star in her own CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000 – 2015) spin-off. Maybe it takes place in L.A.? Maybe Geena Davis is her partner? Yeah, I’m here for this. Rene Russo is a hidden gem of an actress, one who deserves the chance to shine in more mainstream projects.
In this movie about spooky art, there wasn’t nearly enough spookiness, and far too much art. Sure, there are a handful of scares, but they’re few and far between. I just don’t understand that. The mystery of why Dease’s art is killing people is undoubtedly intriguing, but it seems that the movie would rather spend more time on its human character’s problems instead of the compelling story they’re caught in. Normally I have a problem when movies don’t spend enough time developing their characters, but in the case of Velvet Buzzsaw, I desperately wanted them to talk about anything other than the characters. Seriously, we get so wrapped up in the mundane business of art salesmanship, that it’s not until there’s 25 minutes left in this hour and 50-minute movie that Mort even begins to question that something weird is going on! To borrow a phrase from Miranda Priestly, the pace is truly glacial.
There are other, smaller, problems with Velvet Buzzsaw, such as there’s no clear indication of who our protagonist is, the multiple death scenes look super fake and cheesy, and Mort inexplicably uses a flip phone throughout the entire movie. Literally everyone else is using an iPhone Mort, what’s your deal?
However, the movie is still interesting enough and full of great performances that I’d recommend checking it out. It’s at least worth seeing for the bone-chilling ending which is chaotic, haunting, and will leave you gasping. Ultimately, this is a real mixed-bag of a movie, with plenty of pros and cons. One thing is for sure though. It’s in the movie’s favour that it was released on Netflix because there’s no way I would suggest anyone pay the hefty cost of admission to see Velvet Buzzsaw.
Will you give Velvet Buzzsaw a chance? What are your favourite horror movies?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!