Art is life is art is complicated is art is… hilariously approached in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw, which is a satirical horror-comedy commentating on the elite art world.
Art and its existence is transcendent and can be so in various instances within itself. This fact, makes the art forms about art very intriguing and cerebral, and most assuredly will offer something for anyone willing to partake. One such example of this, in every respect stated thus, is the new motion picture, compellingly titled Velvet Buzzsaw from Netflix and written/directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler).
The film, which opens this weekend, is a psychological horror/thriller of high intellectual proportions; It’s intelligent, crafty and unlike most of it’s peers, manages to act as an adult horror movie while also giving it’s audiences something to think about. The story is a full-blown ensemble adagio, surrounding a community of art enthusiasts who come in to some form of connection with a collection of art from a recently deceased hermit, named Dease. Those who come in to it’s orbit, soon start to experience their lives taking a menacing turn.
Writer/Director Gilroy gives the audience his trademark anti-ageist casting of wife Rene Russo, stellar as always, the role of a feisty, strong and driven female of her certain age, and still allows her to be seen as sexy, vibrant, and relevant, while pairing her with her Nightcrawler co-star Jake Gyllenhaal (who also does a great job) as a sexually confused art critic.
They are joined in great unison by Toni Collette – in a fierce turn – who steals every scene she’s in as a zesty, and social art agent, Zawe Ashton, who gives a harrowing performance as an opportunistic young woman, drawn to the financial benefits of dealing art, and in a touching, humane performance, John Malkovich as the conscientious but tortured artist himself. All characters are creatively woven together in a regime that is both unique and old fashioned (think Robert Altman). Other top notch performers of note include Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things), Daveed Diggs (The Get Down), and Tom Sturridge.
Gilroy’s story acts as an existential look at good art versus bad art, examining if there is even a difference, how it affects us as human beings, and pleads with the audience to decide whether or not the characters infatuation with a dead man’s art, infatuation or a portal to their own greed, should be equivocally mandated to the audiences’ own desires and expectations from the very film they are viewing, or the art of film itself. With dialogue that is quicker and wittier than the speed of sound riding the speed of light, and a musical score by noted genre composer Marco Beltrami (the Scream series) that gleefully winks at it’s listeners, the film delivers a unique and ultimately satisfying thrill ride into the human psyche. It’s riddled with “blink and you’ll miss it” nuances and fashionista references in apparel and glamour, which causes the film to emanate an atmosphere akin to that of Irvin Kirshner’s Eyes of Laura Mars, or Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.
The execution of the material, for the most part works. We get an idea of what’s going on, with just enough inference to keep us postulating and are always kept one step ahead of the story. In fact, Gilroy’s focus on his direction of the actors and their main action is so sharp, it distracts from background elements that might have been better explained if they’d been paid better attention to. In addition, the scrutiny of Gyllenhaal’s character, and his sexual nature, could have been explored and parlayed more than seemed upon first viewing.
However, Gilroy is a filmmaker with his mind on the matter, and as the film boasts such a farcical sense of humor, it’s hard to allow any shortcomings to deter from enjoyment. In addition, Further viewings of the film may prove beneficial, as there seemed to be hidden gems that give a clue to what’s really going on, popping up throughout the film.
The overall purpose is accomplished – a very foreboding sense of danger is created. Juxtaposed against the art scene of Los Angeles – to which Gilroy uses to extremely marvelous effect (as usual) – is chic and slick, and were the film produced even ten years ago, might’ve created a catholic effect on cinema culture and might’ve been hailed so, for it’s merits. It was refreshing to see only one backer in the opening credits (Netflix), and with any luck the film will catch on and find the audience it was intended for.
Regardless, the film is certainly a bold one, that will fascinate it’s viewers. With an echo of earlier genre classics as Bernard Rose’s Candyman or Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, spiced with a sly sense of humor, Velvet Buzzsaw is a piece of art that should affect a core audience who will return to it for further reference.