A supernatural force sets out to exact revenge against art profiteers attempting to exploit a series of paintings by an unknown artist.
Dan Gilroy’s ‘Nightcrawler’ was one of my favourite films of 2014, a dark and biting thriller set in the unscrupulous environment of Los Angeles after dark, so he’s a director I’ve been keen to follow since. His follow up, ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’ was an odd film with a good Denzel Washington performance, but ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ finds Gilroy back in a similar wheelhouse to that of ‘Nightcrawler’, on this occasion skewering the art world as opposed to the 24-hour news cycle. Whilst there are similarities between the two films, ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ isn’t nearly as successful in its aims as ‘Nightcrawler’, although there are aspects to enjoy.
The film begins with a sprawling ‘Boogie Nights’ style opening where the camera moves round an art gallery, introducing us to the film’s key players in small segments that work particularly well in outlining where each of these characters sit within the film’s ecosystem and by extension the art world. The film has no ostensible lead but we do spend most of our time with 3 characters: the pretentious art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), art gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), and Josephina (Zawe Ashton), Morf’s friend and Rhodora’s employee. Most of these characters are insufferable pricks, full of their own self-importance, but the approach feels fairly broad and lacks the nuance of something like ‘The Square’, Ruben Ostlund’s outstanding Cannes winner which was released in the UK last year. After this opening the film really kicks into gear when Josephina discovers a dead man in her apartment building alongside a collection of myriad paintings that draw the interest of everyone we’ve previously been introduced too. Research into the man who owned the paintings uncovers a troubling story, and when strange incidents start occurring to the characters in contact with the paintings the warning signs increase.
‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ has bold intentions but it’s only partially successful, despite some dark comedic energy and a fun take on supernatural horror. I felt the satirical edge was a little blunt and obvious (the art world being seen as pretentious isn’t exactly groundbreaking insight) and none of the characters with perhaps the exception of Josephina felt developed enough for me to care about. On the plus side, ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ is a far more interesting work than ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’ and indicates that Dan Gilroy is still keen to explore the darkness within modern society as he did so well in ‘Nightcrawler’, but hopefully whatever comes next is better than this.
Directed By: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhall, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Billy Magnussen, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs and John Malkovich