How can a movie that stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a bisexual art critic who types reviews in the nude, has some of the most invetive kills in a horror film, and the talent of Dan Gilroy be so boring? It is a question that I am sure will plague many viewers once they are finished with Velvet Buzzsaw, if they decide to watch at all.
Velvet Buzzsaw is set in the high stakes world of art that rich people want to buy. They often make their picks based on Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his legendary reviews. Morf’s got the ear of everyone from buyers (Renee Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge) to museum curators (Toni Collette) to artists (Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich). Everyone’s world is shaken when Josephina comes upon the work of a man who mysteriously died. There’s a frenzy for his art, only matched by the frenzy that the art seems to be bent on killing people for their greed.
What it perhaps most damming is that the movie cannot decide whether it wants to go all the way or be more restrained. Velvet Buzzsaw is a strange blend of tastes, filmmaking techniques and storylines. The movie is really stuck in between being the B-movie shlockfest it should be and a more formal piece that would have made the murders stand out. Everything is played so safe, without any joy in the visual language of the film or in the script.
Furthermore, it feel that Gilroy really chickened out with regards to Morf’s sexuality. Sure it was nice that the character could just be bisexual without any big announcement, but Morf only shares a single scene with his boyfriend who tries to get him to come into the pool. Contrast that with a couple of sex scenes Morf has with Josephina and the big reveal about Morf and Ed near the end of the film, it’s just one blown opportunity of many.
Also, and it pains me to say this, nobody in this movie is matching Jake Gyllenhaal’s energy, which is both good and bad. Good in that it helps isolate the critic character’s journey from the rest of the group, intensifying his clashes with them as he begins to spiral out of control. Bad because it isolates the character’s half baked journey and leaves Gyllenhaal on an overacting island. Seriously, how many more tics and mannerisms is Jake going to subject us to in his roles? Comparing him to Renee Russo, who is just wonderful in this film, and it’s really just a shame that the levels of everyone in the cast aren’t even.
Velvet Buzzsaw is one the young year’s biggest disappointments as its bland approach to its subjects and subject matter will leave everyone cold.