A-Ron’s Movie Reviews: Velvet Buzzsaw

Jake Gyllenhaal Is An Art Critic To Some Killer Art In Writer/Director Dan Gilroy’s “Velvet Buzzsaw”

Netflix’s new original film “Velvet Buzzsaw”, is one of the prime examples of why filmmakers are flocking to the streaming service to get their films made. Netflix has proven to be a studio that gives the filmmaker the freedom to do whatever the hell he or she wants. “Velvet Buzzsaw” is one of those films, released by Netflix and premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Writer and Director Dan Gilroy the son of a playwright, and the brother of screenwriter Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”, the “Bourne Identity” series), is the brains behind “Velvet Buzzsaw”. 

Gilroy got his start after penning the 1992 sci-fi thriller “Freejack” with Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger. His career has been prolific if not outstanding since his debut. Gilroy and Gyllenhaal creatively re-team for “Velvet Buzzsaw”. They are known for bringing out the best in each other as in 2014’s “Nightcrawler”, where Gyllenhaal played a toxic TV news cameraman eager to feed the public the carnage it craved. It still remains a career high for both the director and actor. 

Gilroy’s script contains ounces of bone-dry wit and blood-drenched horror as “Velvet Buzzsaw” skewers the realms of Jake Gyllenhaal’s cult classic “Donnie Darko”, “Final Destination”, “The Ring” with a twist straight out of an old Rod Serling “Night Gallery” episode. To sum it up “Velvet Buzzsaw” is outrageous! 

Academy Award Nominee Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastically entertaining  and chews the scenery (which fits appropriately for the film) as Morf Vandewalt, who is the most influential art critic in the United States if not the world, and relishes in wielding his power and sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, into the affairs of the gallery owners, employees and artists that circle the art world around him. 

With his oversized glasses and his coordinated ensembles and having a habit of propping his hand just beneath his chin as he regards a new piece of art work. Morf is a puffed up narcissist but there’s also something endearing about him, especially when he’s running like a puppy after the beautiful and clever art gallery assistant Josephina (Gyllenhaal’s “Nocturnal Animals” co-star Zawe Ashton) by bearing his heart and soul to her, to the point he’s even thinking of leaving his boyfriend for Josephina.

During the hefty first 30 minutes or so, Gilroy’s screenplay is a pure satire against the art world. He introduces us to his cast of characters, in the likes of the immensely successful and powerful art gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo, Gilroy’s real-life spouse; the former curator Gretchen (“Hereditary’s” Toni Collette), who is now advising wealthy clients on which multi million dollar piece to add to their collection; the up and coming street artist known as Damrish (Daveed Diggs); and the legendary and mercurial installation artist Piers (John Malkovich).

At about 40 minutes in, Gilroy takes things to a decidedly creepy and ultimately deadly turn after an elderly man in Josephina’s building dies, and Josephina enters his apartment and discovers a treasure trove of paintings so original, so disturbing, so mesmerizing, that just about anyone who comes into contact with them is instantly transfixed and consumed.

Turns out the artist was one Vetril Dease, and let’s just say he had experienced some serious tragedy and trauma in his day, and apparently turned to his art in an effort to exorcise his demons.

Gilroy hits a supernatural and gory horror vibe at the 40 minute mark and he isn’t exactly a master of horror, but he does manage to offer a few unsettling suspense sequences. He creates skin-crawlingly eerie effects, with figures that start stirring within the paintings, hands that reach out of their frames and some wonderfully sinister set-piece’s that certain works of art come to life, to destroy the melted minds of those who’ve come into contact with Dease’s art work. Gilroy increases the graphic violence as it goes on. He even manages to make a large chrome orb terrifying, that has the ability to assess dreams and darkness in those electing to stick their arms into the sphere. 

“Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t have many twists and turns, just a gradual tonal shift from an art world commentary to a blood spurting supernatural terror. Although a lot of viewers who are not into the supernatural elements and gory horror might come away disappointed that Gilroy doesn’t remain with the artists and their survival of the social and professional tests of the art world. Writer and director Dan Gilroy has blended a familiar mockery of the art scene with a really creepy supernatural horror story.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is to best describe it as unique. It’s an utterly bizarre film that could have only been made for a streamer like Netflix. It’ll be interesting to see how audiences react to it. It’s a film that’s not for everyone, although it’s not hard to imagine a cultish audience embracing it as much as they did with Gyllenhaal’s “Donnie Darko”. 

GRADE: ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★



About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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