It’s undeniable that streaming services have made an impact on the film industry. Netflix has been producing movies with famous actors for years, and even has a film, Roma, with 10 Oscar nominations this year. While the service has produced some hits with big names attached, it’s also had its fair share of flops. One of these is Velvet Buzzsaw, by Dan Gilroy, the director of Nightcrawler.
In Velvet Buzzsaw, Gilroy reunites with Nightcrawler star Jake Gyllenhaal. The film centers around the emergence of a series of haunted paintings and their impact on the Los Angeles art dealing scene. The movie is one of the strangest experiences I’ve had in recent memory; it manages to be so many different things at once, but only a couple of aspects are genuinely good.
The main problems occur during the first two thirds of the movie. It immediately tries to introduce numerous characters all with separate but intersecting side plots. From the first minute with the characters, Velvet Buzzsaw feels like a terrible TV movie. This is mostly to do with the dialogue. It feels like a robot with a limited grasp of human speech patterns tried to write the script. It’s clunky and boring, and the performances don’t help. Gyllenhaal seems to be the only person actually trying, the rest of the cast just seems to be there for a check. One would expect stars like John Malkovich and Toni Collette to give it their all, but instead, they’re uninterested and monotone.
This is all extremely disappointing, and so is the predictability present throughout the whole film. The foreshadowing is painfully obvious. Up until the last half-hour, it’s extremely obvious how all the events will play out and which characters get specifically affected. It’s only during the last bit of the film where there’s some mystery to what will happen next.
The aesthetic aspects of the film don’t redeem it either. The editing is absolutely atrocious. Scene transitions are often done through fades to black that look terrible. Some scenes feel completely out of place as if the necessary context was cut out, and others end right before it’s about to get interesting. At other moments, the backstory is shown on screen through documentary-style exposition that is extremely low quality. The effects are also unsatisfactory. Most of the blood shown in the movie is accomplished through poorly executed computer-generated imagery (CGI).
There are a few moments when the CGI furthers the horror of the scenes, but they are always ruined by tasteless editing. On top of this all, the lighting is either extremely flat or way too shadowy, there doesn’t seem to be an effective middle ground. For the most part, it looks like a student film.
The last third of the movie partially redeems the film. At that point, the over the top energy and poor quality becomes amusing. This ended up being a huge relief. During the later parts of the film, the actors start to fully embrace the bad script and actually attempt to give it their all. Gyllenhaal takes it to a new level, and his dedication is extremely fun to watch. Another surprising standout in the cast is Daveed Diggs. A particular highlight is when the camera returns to him shirtless, making food, and reacting to Gyllenhaal going absolutely crazy.
While there are some cheap jump scares, most of the horror is done in a relatively new way. The art world is already weird and creative, so it’s fun seeing it turn deadly. These scenes are successfully terrifying, and further prove how much potential the film had.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a prime example of a film that had a high profile director, star-studded cast, and large budget, that still managed to fall short of expectations. It seems like it would be a guaranteed hit through Netflix advertising, so nobody gave a lot of effort. Overall, it leaves viewers extremely unsatisfied.