“Velvet Buzzsaw” is artsy, bloody and disappointingly bad
With few enticing options at the cinema and some frightful weather outside, many moviegoers are opting to stay home and stream their winter blues away, instead. And at the stroke of February, the Netflix original movie Velvet Buzzsaw was released to some hungry binge watchers! Shortly thereafter, a general online consensus points to the film’s despondent mediocrity, and it’s a crying shame because this seemingly off-the-cuff thriller offered up a fast-paced trailer just weeks before crash landing on Netflix.
The promo for this original movie gave the film some edge, and the name itself has a ring to it, no? But as excitingly scary and avant-garde as it appears, this movie surprisingly lacks pizzaz and will be – if not, already has been – lost in the cinematic fray of 2019. Its depiction of homo/bisexuality is unbelievably hetero-normative and unbalanced, and (at best) problematic for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Not only did this artsy-fartsy horror waste every opportunity to truly scare audiences, but the entire film also leans heavily on queer culture without ever giving the community something to be proud of. It’s cringe-worthy if I’m being completely honest.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Velvet Buzzsaw is Gilroy’s third film. It could be categorized as an art house horror that dances outside of the box, but in actuality it fails to deliver anything worth holding onto. Set in an exaggeratedly pretentious and quite humourous Los Angeles art scene, the cast is by far the best part of the film: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Spider-Man: Far From Home) plays a gay (sexually fluid) art critic named Morf Vandewalt; Rene Russo (Nightcrawler) plays a mysterious and cut-throat art dealer named Rhodora Haze; Toni Collette (Hereditary) plays a snooty museum curator named Gretchen; John Malkovich (Bird Box) plays a legendary but side-lined artist named Piers; Daveed Diggs (FOX’s Black-ish) plays a homeless man who becomes a renowned street artist named Darwish; and Natalia Dryer (Netflix’s Stranger Things) and Zawe Ashton (BBC’s Wanderlust) play a couple of determined personal assistants named Coco and Josephine who get caught all the way up in the mix.
At its peak, Velvet Buzzsaw is a nightmarish fable weaving through locations and characters as smoothly as a paintbrush on canvas – cutting from one major plot to the next – but the focus remains on a collection of curious artworks by an unknown artist. Josephine discovers said artworks after stumbling upon a dead body in the stairwell of her apartment building. The deceased man wished to “destroy every last piece”, but instead Josephine represents him at art galleries for a hefty financial cut. Slowly but surely, the artwork begins to kill people in a Final Destination-meets-The Conjuring Universe-posted-on-Instagram, sort of way…
The artwork comes to life, stalks its victims, and murders them in the most gruesome and supernatural ways. In turn, it becomes more valuable and popular among the masses. An interesting concept, but the film’s chills and spills are nothing short of lacklustre and any “horror” aspect takes a proverbial backseat to the onslaught of characters and their stylized nuances. This movie straight-up doesn’t go anywhere. Its flashiness is all smoke and mirrors and its a shame to see so many of these realized and layered characters get tossed up into the air only to land flat on their faces.
One of the biggest problems with Velvet Buzzsaw is its redundancy. Nothing happens for any particular reason, and if it does, you need to take two steps back, tilt your head to the side, take a sip of your martini, and hopefully get to the bottom of it. What does it mean? Why is that happening? And for Andy Warhol’s sake, why is Jake Gyllenhaal’s character gay if he’s only going to be sexually involved with a woman the entire movie? Don’t get me wrong, bisexuality has every right to be featured in cinema. In fact, it should be explored more! But when an under-represented minority is used to overshadow and then capsize another – in this case, queer men – it’s no longer trailblazing. Especially when the sexual fluidity explored stays within heterosexual barriers.
Here we have what should have been an impressive film, and despite Toni Collette’s blunt bangs and take-no-shit attitude, Jake Gyllenhaal’s flamboyant and sexy portrayal of a queer man in the art scene, and a glorious yet tokenized butt-shot from Sedale Threatt Jr. (who plays Gyllenhaal’s boyfriend Ed for no more than fifteen seconds of the entire 1h 53m running time), Velvet Buzzsaw presents a disappointing palette of colours stolen from somewhere over the LGBTQ+ rainbow, and then blends them into an odd mixture of cheap thrills and tired queer-baiting.
“All art is dangerous.”
2 Popcorn Kernels / 5
Now streaming on Netflix.
The beginning of each year is also well-known in the movie industry as sort of “slow” or “dry season” and it’s fair to say 2019 has underwhelmingly been no exception. Now in February, a bonafide good movie has yet to be released! Glass is being considered the “first big blockbuster of the year,” but the latest thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan divided fans over its surprise ending; some loved it, others hated it, and it remains at the very top of the box office after four consecutive weeks. Just one spot ahead of the controversial Kevin Hart remake, The Upside, which has remained in the number two spot for three straight weeks. Yikes…
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.