With recent releases like Bright and Bird Box disappointing and alienating a fair few sofa viewers, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of Netflix Originals. However, they don’t make it easy to keep expectations low – both of the previously mentioned films at least had some interesting and fairly original premises, even if the execution definitely could have been thought through better. Velvet Buzzsaw, though a decent enough film, certainly suffers from this problem, with director Dan Gilroy biting off more than he can chew; the movie dips its toes into both supernatural horror and comedic satire, never becoming immersed enough in either.
Boasting an impressive cast featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Toni Colette, Velvet Buzzsaw follows the creme-de-la-creme of the fine art scene, from greedy agents and careless artists to pretentious critics and dubious ‘advisors’, when they eventually come across the masterful paintings of a recently deceased unknown artist. Unfortunately, this sparks a series of bizarre deaths all associated with different artworks, most of which appear in the film beforehand. I won’t spoil anything else, though honestly there isn’t much plot beyond this, and most of the fun to be had is from the creative deaths and the often funny absurdity of how seriously each character takes themselves.
Sadly, despite the wonderful performances of basically everyone involved, the sheer fact that the characters come off woefully underwritten spoils much of the fun. During the opening exposition, a good time to establish the distinct personalities of the characters involved, Gilroy opts for several long takes of characters in a gallery dumping huge amounts of background knowledge on the audience. Instead of enthralling, this is frustrating and confusing, leaving you waiting for something interesting to happen. At least the film picks up after this though, the sometimes creative but not very frightening horror elements picking up some the slack on how monotonous Velvet Buzzsaw can be.
For me at least, it also suffered somewhat from the Netflix Original tendency to look too much like a TV show. A strange and picky criticism, I know – the vibrancy of the mise-en-scene was captivating otherwise – but the cinematography often struggles to give enough depth and breadth to the environment the film takes place in, relying on medium close-ups that give a closed off effect. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if it assisted the content of the film, but as a movie filled with interesting props and set amongst some glorious backdrops, it irked me. I don’t expect Lawrence of Arabia, but something that takes me beyond a 32-inch telly would be preferable.
If the film had been a little more cutting, a little more unsettling, or maybe just a little longer, it may have felt like there was more there. But alas, Velvet Buzzsaw falls just short in every respect besides its performances and concept, and stands as another monument to Netflix’s struggle with the implementation of originality. At this point, I’ll take any kind of unique project that I can get my hands on – the superhero flicks are beginning to wear thin.