“VELVET BUZZSAW” is now streaming on Netflix. It’s written and directed by Dan Gilroy. It has an excellent cast headlined by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Toni Collette. This story centers itself in the world of high-priced art and the competitive business of it that’s shrouded under the layers of pretentiousness and sophistication. When a collection of paintings from an unknown creator are found, they create a spark of energy in the art-community. But there is a dark history behind these paintings, as well as a sinister attachment to them that begins to unleash itself onto those who come in possessions of and turn a profit on these works.
I’ve been high on this film since I watched the trailer. It showed promise of a multi-layered narrative with many twists and turns. It looked to deliver both elements of subtle satirical humor revolving around the art-world. As well as genuine horror dynamics while the mystery around these painting evolves. It also showcased a fantastic ensemble cast, and with Dan Gilroy in creative control I was hopeful for an elegantly grim story. Which is exactly what it delivered much to my delight. This is a great movie and if the trailer and promo-material appeal to you then I highly recommend it.
First, let’s talk about the story-line. It was extremely well-structured and had a lot of moving pieces without giving the appearance of such. Many indistinct things are continually going on while the narrative progresses that had me completely engaged. It creates the atmosphere for the setting being in the art-world. Dialogue is tightly written. It’s sharp, intelligent, and while conversations are taking place the story continuously exploring the culture of art-world. The consumerism. The constant jostling for a secure position by representation agents. It also captures the concepts behind what is considered art, what gives it value, and the shady competition that goes on behind the pristine art gallery walls.
These layers are delivered to us through a variety of personalities that range in levels of eccentricities. Gilroy had a great cast as his fingertips, and he wrote for them extremely well to utilize the strengths of his performers. I loved watching the camera flow from one flawlessly acted scene to the next. Compelling plot-line put aside, it was still extremely entertaining to see the back-and-forth’s between the various characters. I will never get tired of seeing great performances, delivering great material. Which was the case here with this movie. But all the while this atmosphere of the art-world is being laid out for us, the story is also building something much more foreboding that you can feel looming in the background.
Then the film takes a turn, and the tone does as well. It becomes much more intense and suspenseful and I thought the change was nicely crafted. The visuals kick in and it becomes a true mind-trip as the entity in these paintings manifests in some crazy ways. This is where Gilroy was able to bring the same sophistication in the first half of the movie into the second half by capturing an elegance to the violence which I found unique and very appealing.
I thought everyone effectively pumped life and enthusiasm into their roles no matter the size of their part. Gyllenhaal was the focal character. He was given the largest arc in the story and as his character faces inner realizations and self-conflict I thought Gyllenhaal captured the natural range of emotions as good as he always does. He is a character actor and he put his skills on display once again with this role. He was charming, he was intense, he was vulnerable at times as well as pretentious and arrogant during others and it was all very authentic due to his performance.
Rene Russo was fantastic. She was very intense in this role and she sold the part well. She had a great chemistry with the rest of the cast as well to sell their various dynamics. I think she really was the perfect choice for this shark of a character. Malkovich and Collette were both awesome as well. They make the most of the smaller roles and for me at least were able to capture my attention each time they were on screen. But I do think Zawe Ashton was a scene stealer. She wasn’t given a very nuanced character to play with, but she infused it with a ton of emotion and charisma that made her the easiest to connect with. I loved the energy she put into this performance to truly hold her own with some heavyweight names.
The visual appeal was another strong positive for me. The wardrobes and set-designs were all fantastic. It effectively pulled me into not only the story, but the world of it. The selection of art was also bold, vibrant, and varying in eccentricity that I felt captured the high-class culture nicely. When the more horror inspired elements of the plot kick in the same artistry is captured but in a more grim and evil way. It was able to fit inside the vibe of the film, yet still felt completely different and haunting. I thought Gilroy’s direction was well done. He created a smooth flow between the characters. The camerawork didn’t try to do too much, and he just let the performances shine.
I had a great time watching this movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it again. I enjoyed the character development, but it could have been trimmed back a bit to let the plot kick in sooner. I also would have liked possibly more backdrop to the history of the paintings. I love a little bit of mystery, but this aspect was quickly developed forcing me to take things at face-value. I think a couple added scenes of history could have built even more intensity. But as it was, I highly recommend it. This was a well-crafted film on many levels and it will provide some genuine unpredictability and suspense.
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