The Reel Review
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo star in this kooky, satirical horror/thriller about greedy members of the contemporary art world who defy an emotionally-tortured artist’s dying wish to destroy his paintings, instead stealing and selling them for their own financial gain. After several of these shallow narcissists start dying in creative, ironic art-related ways, art critic Mort Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) realizes the alluring supernatural artwork is quite literally, to die for.
Writer/director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) borrows heavily from several movies, among the more curious of them, 1980’s Flash Gordon (for the Gretchen/Sphere scene), resulting in a few genuinely funny and scary scenes but sadly, a lot more that are neither. The bizarre juxtaposition of high camp, cheesy horror tropes, and pretentious caricatures has the unintended effect of making a mockery of many of the main cast – Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, and in particular, Zawe Ashton (Nocturnal Animals) – with their performances appearing amateurish and silly. Only two people seem to rise above the unfocused script – Russo, as the punk rocker turned gallery owner with her former band’s name “Velvet Buzzsaw” tattooed on her back, and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things), as the profoundly unlucky gallery assistant whose bosses keep dropping dead on her. The film’s message, that only those who appreciate art for the sake of art will survive, is cheeky and clever, but unfortunately, its clumsy delivery is not.
• Velvet Buzzsaw reunites writer/director Dan Gilroy, Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal, who worked together in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Gilroy says he wrote Velvet Buzzsaw with both actors in mind for their roles.
• Jake Gyllenhaal and Zawe Ashton both appeared in 2016’s art world themed Nocturnal Animals, but never had any scenes together.
• Gilroy says he was inspired by the late director Robert Altman and wanted his film to have a vibe reminiscent of his 1992 film, The Player.