When Dan Gilroy pairs with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, you know you’re in for something twisted. After blowing folks away with Nightcrawler, Gilroy went for something very different as his follow up with Roman J. Israel, ESQ. Now, tomorrow brings the release on Netflix, after the high profile debut at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago, of Velvet Buzzsaw, Gilroy’s new collaboration with Gyllenhaal and Russo. Bizarre, satirical, oddly funny, and violent, sometimes all at once, it definitely stands out. Love it or hate it, Gilroy and company go for it. Despite some clear flaws, it has a unique vibe that you may just find intoxicating.
Set in the world of art, art criticism, and art sales, this film is, at its core, a classy horror outing. Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is an art critic who can make or break a show. This puts him into close contact with art dealers like Rhodora Haze (Russo), as well as museum curators like Gretchen (Toni Collette). Greed and self centeredness reign supreme. When Rhodora’s employee and Moro’s new lover Josephina (Zawe Ashton) comes across a dead neighbor, his apartment has a treasure trove of art. Thus begins a battle over the product, which everyone thinks is worth a fortune. However, the man wanted it destroyed, for reasons that become clear. Simply put, those fighting over the art begin being killed, often in brutal ways. Cue some supernatural ridiculousness. Gilroy writes and directs, with the supporting cast including the likes of Daveed Diggs, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich, and many more. Robert Elswit provides the cinematography, while the score comes from the duo of Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. John Gilroy edits, once again making this a family affair.
In a surprisingly strong way, this is like the world’s most stylish Final Destination knockoff. At about the midway point, characters start falling, often in rather creative ways. There’s even a running gag throughout about one character finding the latest victim. Through it all, Gilroy is gleefully orchestrating it all. Colette, Gyllenhaal, and Russo are committed to the premise, even when it gets very silly. If it’s actually low art, it has the veneer of high art. More could have been done with the look of the flick, considering how Elswit is the DP, but it’s still a good looking movie. To be sure, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but if you’re having a good time, and you likely will be, it won’t be a huge issue.
Given the choice, Gilroy indulging in his darker impulses is the preferred route for the filmmaker. This is even darker than Nightcrawler, though clearly not as realistic. This also shows just how odd of a choice it was for him to make Roman J. Israel, ESQ. Gilroy also deserves credit for how well paired he is with Gyllenhaal. The former lets the latter loose, and neither is afraid to fail. Go big or go home, right? At its best moments and at its worst, Velvet Buzzsaw is unafraid of failure. Despite tonal inconsistencies and the occasional moment where it seems like a few connecting scenes are missing, the final product is a lot of fun.
Velvet Buzzsaw is not for the easily disturbed. It takes such glee in offing its awful characters that you have to get on its wavelength. If you do, there’s macabre fun to be had. It’s weird, it’s sometimes gross, and it’s pitch black in tone. If that doesn’t work for you, you won’t dig on this. Otherwise, there’s a good time. It’s just shy of greatness, but well worth watching. At this point, Gilroy is a filmmaker to follow and eagerly anticipate. The more he dives into genre and his darkest impulses, the better it gets. Netflix will get this out to the masses shortly after you read this, so it won’t be hard to find. Brace yourself and give it a shot…
Be sure to check out Velvet Buzzsaw, streaming on Netflix this weekend!