The latest addition to the Netflix original movies library collection takes the shape of Velvet Buzzsaw directed by Dan Gilroy. The movie is about an assistant to the Haze Art Gallery, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) who finds a dead man, Vetril Dease (Alan Mandell), in her building and thought that she finds his paintings. Her Boss Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and her decide to sell his works since he has no family, is dead, plus he wanted it all burnt up anyway. But, of course, his paintings are haunted. But, Dease’s paintings don’t actually kill people; they possess some other artwork to do the killing. Dease’s paintings are a mob boss and the others around him are for hire. They come alive and all. But they only target those that want to make money off the works and not those who stare and admire them. And four out of the six dead people become part of the art works that killed them.
Velvet Buzzsaw could be seen as a thriller-like movie with a sprinkle of dark humour (such as the joke about people thinking a dead body is merely art and it hitting big on Instagram or that literal bags of rubbish is great art- yes that old joke). It does have a few jump scares which can be a bit annoying but not anything to take you out of the world of these characters. I would not call it a horror although it does have some creepy imagery (and the fact that Dease really puts himself into his art… like really… literally) and uses some dark tones at certain scenes. But the overall visual of the movie is bright with the primary colours looking as if they pop out slightly more. This could add to the theme of art since you can’t paint without primary colours regardless which tubes of paint you buy.
The movie does not seem to take its self too seriously and it also doesn’t seem to mock the LA (ish) contemporary art world. The movie doesn’t hate the world it is in (and it is showing) but it gets how it can look (and to a certain extend be) to either the inside eye or the outside eye. Like some artists thinking sticking macaroni on a canvas is something to brag about (Bryan (Billy Magnussen)) to Coco (Natalia Dyer)) while others understand that creative people may need to take a break and do something for themselves only (Rhodora to Piers (John Malkovich)).
The opening credits really foreshadow the events on the film in an arty style from the scene with Josephina and the paint to Morf’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) glasses falling to the floor etc. Plus the camera work overall was something I liked since I am a fan of steady, smooth, shot where the camera was placed on a tripod or crane and not shakey hand-held. And the extreme close ups where you could see the reflection of the painting in Morf’s eyes is one of my favourite shots. Overall the composition and camera movements really pleased me. The writing was good overall except that “Velvet Buzzsaw” was Rhodora’s old band name (boooooo) but it was good that the characters spoke about people that the audience did not see such as Ricky (Josephina’s ex) and others- it gave the idea of a world outside this particular story, and there was how nice foreshadowing with Rhodora telling Morf how “in sync” they are. It was slightly and written off as one of those clichéd lines until Coco relieves close to the end that Rhodora essentially had a spy on Morf.
Speaking of Morf, Gyllenhaal did a fantastic job bring the world renowned art critic that all artists want to please to the Netflix screen. Morf’s mannerism is light but spot on, and a total change in body language, posture, voice and even facial expression. But it was not cartoony but it could at times slightly boarder on it but not too much to distract you like when Morf was angry and arguing with Josephina. He was a standout evening when his obsession with the paintings was beginning to take over. Another cherry on the acting cake is Gretchen (Toni Collette) who was funny and fun to watch but was a touch more cartoony to me.
Come to think of it, it as if the artists are more grounded while the sellers and gallery owners are less so… I think. Except Coco who I would suspect has a breakdown after always running into dead bodies. The acting was really good but it felt as if Josephina was more on the ‘straight’ serious side and although Ashton could play a bit with the character she could not do as much as the other actors- dues to the direction of her character not due to her acting ability. She was not as grounded as Coco at times but she was not at the level of the others. I’m just nit-picking and it more of a personal preference I have.
Anyway if you are into super-light horror and thriller and like paintings (I think a lot of the paintings were oil????) than have a watch at Velvet Buzzsaw. The film is good and there were moment that stick out to me but not sure if it is yet one for the ages.