Review: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ has a striking visual style but fails to excite or enthrall


Official poster for Netflix’s new original film “Velvet Buzzsaw.” (Photo courtesy of IMDb.)

By Richard Edgemon

Despite an eye-catching trailer and a star-studded cast, Netflix’s newest horror release “Velvet Buzzsaw” definitely has a visual style, but falls short on substance with their paranormal horror-thriller.

This is only the second film from Dan Gilroy, writer and director of the tabloid thriller “Nightcrawler.” Gilroy’s newest work shifts slightly in subject and tone from the seedy, ambulance-chasing world of his previous film to that of the extravagant, avant-garde art world being terrorized by a collection of possessed pieces.

Gilroy’s muses, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, both return and like with Gilroy’s previous film, give the strongest performances throughout the film. But despite them and their co-stars, who include Toni Collette and John Malkovich, their performances never create a cohesive experience.

While many of the characters make logical and emotional sense individually, when put together in a scene, many of the characters feel as though they are in drastically different films, with one group seemingly in a two part episode of “Supernatural” that has yet to start and the others in toned down version of a “Final Destination” rip-off that has already been edited for television.

Gyllenhaal and Collette both seem to understand which side they belong to, with both chewing up scenery like they were a couple of 6-month old puppies, while Russo and the near-criminally underused Malkovich emote with seemingly genuine emotion that clashes with the film’s schlocky tone.

Along with the inconsistent acting, the visuals also range from technically impressive to practically embarrassing.

There are some shots and sequences, particularly involving the large mirrored sphere shown in the trailer, that are genuinely impressive technically. Then, less than ten minutes later, there are shots of a clearly green screened background with horrendous, flat lighting and flame effects that look like a plugin from a editing suite.  

In addition to the technical or aesthetic issues with the film, the script and structure also come out too weak with it taking nearly a third of the runtime before getting into the story proper. Even then, the plot meanders between characters before sputtering out at the end in a whimper.

Verdict 5.5/10

Overall, the most significant reaction from this film was disappointment. After the thrill ride that was “Nightcrawler,” there was paplpable anticipation for Gilroy’s next project and expectations rose again with the return of Gyllenhaal and Russo only for the disappointment to be even greater. The film feels far cheaper than a budget of $21 million would suggest and other than the actors’ salaries it’s hard to see where all that money was spent. Like the art world that is satirized throughout the film, this film seems like a shallow recreation of a slew of familiar works that never captures the viewers.