Fans of dark crime-thriller Nightcrawler rejoice! Writer and director Dan Gilroy has reunited with Jake Gyllenhaal for a new Netflix original movie. Velvet Buzzsaw promises a sardonic mix of dark humour and horror set in the shallow world of the Los Angeles art community. Gilroy’s latest movie debuted earlier in 2019 at Sundance. Netflix released Velvet Buzzsaw on February 1st.
Set in the world of the Los Angeles art community, Morf Vandewalt is both a revered and feared art critic. When a gallery employee discovers a dead artist’s trove of never-seen-before paintings, Morf joins an assortment of art snobs who see opportunity to profit. But the dead artist’s dark past seeps out from his paintings, punishing all those trying to benefit from his misery.
Velvet Buzzsaw Rife With Aloof Dark Humor
Velvet Buzzsaw takes full aim at the vapid Los Angeles art community. From the artists to gallery owners to critics, Gilroy’s satirical screenplay leaves no one untouched. By and large, the dark humour hits its marks. Though its target may seem too narrow and removed from audiences, most viewers will likely appreciate Velvet Buzzsaw’s scathing treatment of cluelessly ‘privileged’ characters. After all, we live in a world defined by ‘influencers’ and ‘likes and clicks.’ The Los Angeles art community isn’t that far removed.
Where Velvet Buzzsaw somewhat missteps is Gilroy’s detached approach to the subject matter.
And there are several delightfully dark bits. Gallery patrons walking around a bloody corpse, assuming it’s just part of an exhibit, is wonderfully cynical. Gyllenhaal’s art critic ‘Morf’ snickering at casket decor during a colleague’s funeral is perhaps a little obvious, but still works. Where Velvet Buzzsaw somewhat missteps is Gilroy’s detached approach to the subject matter. Much of the humour is as aloof as the characters its skewering. The result is a movie that doesn’t cut quite as deep as one might expect.
Gilroy Paints Striking Horror Visuals
No, Gilroy may not be a horror director, but he clearly understands horror aesthetics. In fact, Velvet Buzzsaw’s horror scenes are as beautifully staged and filmed as the art work at the heart of the movie. To his credit, Gilroy effectively balances humour with the horrific. This is no more evident than in a scene where Gyllenhaal’s ‘Morf’ is stalked by a ‘HoboMan’ exhibit he skewered earlier. It’s all laugh-out-loud ridiculous, but still manages to creep you out. Ultimately, Gilroy’s execution of the movie’s bloodier moments elevate his concept from a dated Twilight Zone episode. And horror fans can be assured that there’s several inventive and wicked death scenes.
Stellar Ensemble Cast Fully Commits to the Material
Come for the biting sarcasm, stay for the stellar cast. Similar to Nightcrawler, Gilroy has assembled an impressive cast. Rene Russo, Toni Collette (Hereditary), and John Malkovich (Bird Box) join a fantastc Gyllenhaal. And while Gyllenhaal has top-billing, Velvet Buzzsaw is truly an ensemble movie. At this stage of her career, Russo is delivering wonderfully strong and understated performances. In many ways, Russo’s character is the glue that holds together the ensemble. But it’s Zawe Ashton who steals the movie. I haven’t seen Ashton in anything previously, but she steals several scenes admidst some pretty good performances.
Velvet Buzzsaw Balances Its Humour and Horror
Gilroy’s dark horror-comedy is more comedy than horror, but deftly balances the two genres. Certainly, there may be a little too much ambiguity in the movie’ subtext. Maybe Gilroy strives too hard for the abstract. Both the movie’s title and John Malkovich’s end credits scene, for instance, will likely puzzle audiences long after the movie is over. But the striking horror visuals and sharp humour hit far more often than miss. Overall, Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw may be a little weird for some mainstream viewers, but horror fans are likely to appreciate it.