Velvet Buzzsaw: Netflix and Jake Gyllenhaal’s disastrous comedy-horror
Well, the race to deliver 2019's first truly awful movie can be declared officially over with Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw, an absolute trainwreck of a movie with barely anything that I can honestly say I liked about it.
This film had everything going for it; reteaming writer-director Dan Gilroy with his two leads from Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo and a premise ripped straight from a Junji Ito manga short, everything was looking great. But once the trailer dropped with definite vibes of last year's Mute about it, another under-budgeted, overambitious disaster-piece from a hubristic auteur eager to make good on their early promise, it was clear that at best this was going to be enjoyably trashy, like Suspiria was, eventually. However the film itself quickly slides into a pool of easy and pretentious jibes on the shallowness of the art world and boring rushed out tropes that every horror has used since the J-horror remake boom of the early 2000s with obnoxious mickey mouse sound design, absurdly over the top death scenes that still manage to be underwhelming and some absolutely diabolical CGI.
The film's premise, which had so much potential it hurts, is that a collection of paintings is found in the apartment of a recently deceased man, falls into the hands of dealers and takes the art scene by storm, bringing down a terrible curse on any who profit by it. This story is told by following an ensemble cast of characters including Jake Gyllenhaal's pretentious art critic and Zawe Ashton as his gallery employee girlfriend. If there's anything to be said for the film outside of a couple of creative images it's that Gyllenhaal never gives less than 100%, even if, as previous Netflix project Okja proved, that isn't always a good thing.
Unfortunately, his is the only good performance wrung out of the cast, Ashton, who was so good in Dreams of a Life looks unbelievably lost in her role and Russo and Toni Collette make nothing of the scarce material given to them. There is only one likeable character and it's the long-suffering receptionist Coco who was honestly the only person I was invested in at all. As a result, none of the suspense scenes are the least bit scary since even if you didn't know what was about to happen you don't care anyway. The oppressive score is at it's worst in these scenes, drowning out the effects with a cacophony of stock horror cues and on top of all this, the film has been so poorly cut that we often don't see the key moment of the scene. It's as if it has been cut to lower the certificate but it can't be that because some scenes are still violent, gurgling computer-generated blood across the screen like a 3D slasher film. Because of this, I don't think there was a single moment in the entire film that wholly worked, every time it struck on an interesting idea something came along to ruin it.
The film almost approaches a message about how art is running our lives, and we are overstimulated and we should take time to switch off, which is an interesting message and there are moments where you can see how this film might have got it across really effectively. But you don't earn points for what you might have done, or having good intentions when the result is this much of a trainwreck.