Right off the bat I need to confess a few things. First, I am a Jake Gyllenhaal completionist and really have no choice but to watch his new films. Sometimes this is a joy, and sometimes you end up watching Life, or Stronger, and hoping the material will live up to his performance. If it wasn’t for Gyllenhaal, and Jim hounding me about seeing it, I never would have watched Velvet Buzzsaw, but I did. Second, I am a fan of Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler from the same director, Dan Gilroy. Third, Robert Elswit, who shot Nightcrawler and Velvet Buzzsaw is one of my favorite working DPs. Seriously, check out his filmography and you’ll see this guy knows what he’s doing.
Here’s the thing though — Velvet Buzzsaw is a disaster in nearly every way and while I won’t talk about it on the show because it isn’t worth the air, I’m hoping by writing this I might save others from some of the pain I suffered.
SPOILERS OR WHATEVER: I guess this is a movie about cursed artwork that kills anyone who profits off it, but it’s hard to tell because it doesn’t make much sense. I only wish those who profited from this film were as cursed as those who try to sit through it.
Velvet Buzzsaw is in the comedy-satire-horror-thriller-mystery-romance genre, which is to say it is all of those and none of those. It can’t decide what it wants to be and doesn’t have the savvy to credibly pull off any its genre ambitions. The satire of art world aesthetes is superficial and expected. The humor fails to amuse. The horror is pointless, without rules, and sloppily executed. The thriller is undone by poor pacing and a total failure to understand basic narrative logic in which events are connected to each other through cause and effect. The mystery isn’t mysterious because everything is telegraphed and the only remaining mystery is how any of it this adds up to anything resembling a coherence. There are relationships in the movie, it takes a stab at some romantic intrigue, but then leaves it on the floor like a rag soaked in turpentine just waiting to come through your TV and burn your house down for watching this thing.
If you’re unlucky enough to watch this Netflix product, you’ll end up with so many unanswered questions, red herrings, dead ends, and moments of slack-jawed befuddlement that will never be satisfied no matter how many times you subject yourself to it — why was there blood in the paint, why was the robot in the storage facility, why does the curse work through other artists, why was John Malkovich’s character in the movie… and so on. The meaning or purpose here will not reveal itself through further analysis because there is no meaning to anything at all. It feels like a first draft on every level; unprocessed, notional, and lacking motive. Also, just to make sure you aren’t already in enough pain from trying to make sense of it, the cinematography is terrible. It looks worse than most sitcoms. It is overlit, flat, and too sharp. It is everything that is wrong with digital. Did I mention the performances aren’t very good?
So, who’s to blame for this mess? Who should we hold responsible? I personally pin it all on Netflix. Yes, Dan Gilroy is at fault creatively, but Netflix gave him the money and like so many of their movies this one comes out like nobody was paying attention to what the product was supposed to be aside from something streamable.