comScore

Velvet Buzzsaw Is a Clunky, Bonkers, Totally Mesmerizing Ride

4/5 murder paintings.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw

Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film Nightcrawler starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in an exploration of the world of crime journalism those who profit off of violence. It was a thriller, a dark modern noir, and a pitch-black comedy all rolled into one masterpiece that keeps its audience so tense you’ll barely exhale through its entire runtime. It was one of Gyllenhaal’s most enthralling performances and also placed Gilroy on the list of auteurs to watch.

Gilroy has gotten that gang back together for Velvet Buzzsaw, now out on Netflix, and while it’s definitely no Nightcrawler, it’s a totally worthwhile, and definitely unique experience.

Velvet Buzzsaw centers on Morf Vandewalt, a character who, like pretty much everyone else in this movie, matches the excessive ridiculousness of his name. Morf is an art critic in Los Angeles, working closely with gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Russo), and infatuated with Haze’s ambitious mid-level employee Josephina (Zawe Ashton). When Josephina stumbles upon a trove of paintings in her recently deceased neighbor’s apartment, the three collaborate to make a fortune off of them. Everyone agrees the paintings are brilliant, if unsettling, but what Josephina doesn’t mention is that the artist instructed that they all be destroyed upon his death.

What unfolds is essentially two different movies. One is an exaggerated comedy, filled with scathing art-world caricatures. I admit the fine art world is not one I’m overly familiar with, but Gilroy says his vision of it is accurate. Every character in this world is the definition of extra. Toni Collette’s museum employee-turned-personal “art adviser” is an especially harsh commentary on how the art world has been corrupted by the ludicrous amounts of money being funnelled through it.

The other movie is a Final Destination sort of moderately gory horror flick involving cursed murderous paintings.

These totally disparate movies aren’t woven together as seamlessly as Nightcrawler meshed its genres, and the result is a pretty uneven jumble. But even with the genre whiplash, Gilroy manages to make both these movies work by committing 100% to the absurdity of each. Which is more unrealistic: killer paintings taking vengeance on art world capitalists or the idea that an art critic could be as completely ripped as Gyllenhaal? (A mix of pilates and Peloton, he tells us, addressing the jacked elephant in the room head-on.) It’s a toss-up, but Gilroy creates a space in which I happily accept both because this ridiculous rollercoaster is too fun to question.

The supporting cast of Velvet Buzzsaw is a wall to wall delight, and includes, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Tom Sturridge, and Natalia Dyer, each doing The Most every second they’re on screen. The whole movie is uneven and overstuffed, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

This is one of those movies that will have you questioning all the way through it and probably long after if it’s good or if it’s actually terrible. Or maybe it’s not good, but it’s still great? Or maybe it’s all of the above? Whatever it is, it’s certainly not boring, since, as this movie tells us, that would be the worst crime a piece of art could commit, even worse than actual murder.

(image: Claudette Barius/Netflix)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.