‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ is a disappointing fragment of a thriller

Despite stellar performances from an all-star cast, the film tediously follows a lackluster storyline teeming with gore and jump scares.
Netflix’s “Velvet Buzzsaw,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is a thriller about a supernatural entity in art. Courtesy of IMDb

This review contains spoilers for the movie “Velvet Buzzsaw”

When Netflix released “Velvet Buzzsaw” on Friday, Feb. 1, I couldn’t wait to watch it. The premise of a dark, supernatural energy clinging to art seemed clever, and I was looking forward to an intricate backstory. I was expecting a chilling take on the eccentricities and competitiveness of the art scene in a film full of established actors. It seemed so promising on so many levels. Frankly, I feel like I was duped by the trailer.

The movie depicts the greed-induced downfall of Morf (Gyllenhaal), a notorious art critic; Rhodora (Russo), an intimidating art gallery owner; and Josephina (Ashton), Morf’s agent and friend. After Josephina’s introverted neighbor, Dease, dies, she stumbles upon his extensive collection of disturbing original art in his apartment. Ignoring her deceased neighbor’s wishes for all of his work to be destroyed after he died, Josephina sees the opportunity to profit and snatches his art to be sold in Rhodora’s gallery.

Essentially, gruesome things start happening when the carnage of the art world supersedes the integrity of art itself. We witness the death of a few underdeveloped characters before Morf catches on to the supposed cursed nature of Dease’s art and desperately urges Rhodora to stop selling his work in her gallery. But, in classic (cliché?) horror film fashion, it’s already too late. Soon after, Morf, Rhodora and Josephina all die in twisted, art-takes-revenge ways.

The story of “Velvet Buzzsaw” was not given enough thought from its writer. It felt thrown together, as if the notable cast and flashy setting was intended to compensate for or divert attention away from such an enormous plot issue. Marred with gore and jump scares, the film seemed to settle for mediocrity. The concept was great — mysterious art causes mysterious occurrences. There wasn’t enough substance. The execution of things was just disappointing.

It wasn’t all bad — the music was aptly chosen to match the mood of each scene, the costumes were impeccably designed to reflect each character and the acting was flawless. The pretension and greed rooted in the art world were actually parodied in a really brilliant way. Early on in the film, I actually felt almost certain that it was shaping up to be my new favorite movie. Then, a boring 30 minutes of filler dialogue and gore passed, then a dull hour of more gore and the tired drama from a weakly-constructed subplot of Morf and Josephina’s love affair, and then it was over. And it was kind of insulting.

I had high hopes for “Velvet Buzzsaw.” Netflix has been producing quality movies lately, so I was anticipating a well-written and intriguing story. The plot, or lack thereof, was pretty brainless. I found the pitiful absence of backstory and character development to be annoying. It could have been so much more than it was.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, art is subjective.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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