Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
All art is dangerous.
I meant to have a western for tonight to mix things up, but I dropped the ball on the Netflix Disc rental round trip, so I had to last minute pick something that I’ve been putting off for a while. It intrigued me when I saw a trailer way back then, but something about it made me just keep pushing it back further and further when it came time to what I felt like watching. Perhaps it just needed to set for a while like all good art, or perhaps I just had questions about if it would hold my interest if it became too artsy. Either way, put down that brush because it’s time for the critics - tonight we check out Velvet Buzzsaw to see what it’s about.
Story here is a bit of a mystery thriller in pitch. In delivery, it ends up playing out way more like a dog eat dog art world movie, complete with stereotypes across the spectrum that could either hurt the movie or not, depending on how easily offended you are., with a little bit of a ghost story following along. It’s a cool twist, the dark magic soul of the paintings striking forth against the living in a bunch of ways. Unfortunately, if that’s why you were drawn in it’s surprisingly far more of a background than it is a centerpiece to things playing out. Sadly, that’s why I was here, so there was a number of times whilst watching that I found myself not caring about the human drama of cutthroat practices and love triangles dancing around on the screen as it slowly tries to build up tensions towards another payoff. When the payoffs did happen, it felt like a legitimate horror movie for better and worse - looking at you loud musical stings - and I find myself appreciating those moments the best in the entire movie. Largely though, those moments really only account for six or seven moments of a roughly two hour movie that wants me to think about morals and care about sorted lovers and their fickle relationships.
The flow in turn steered more towards using these horror moments as a high point - everything plays normal, then you get that crescendo of emotions leading to a sudden otherworldly payoff. The moments of tension that it can build throughout, even as simple as spooky lighting, are handled well but the effective brunt of the movie causes them to almost feel more out of place, as though they are a series of twists spread about an otherwise plain movie. In fact, the movie starts perfectly normal, and really only even starts getting into the spooky twists after we’ve already seen something you’d expect more from a date night movie including getting demoted for stupid things, flings, and judging art. One could argue that this is more the point of the movie - to provide commentary on not just the art world, but on the art and people within it as well. This is largely all fine and good - but when you go into it expecting a terror filled picture of blood-magic art killing people, I’d dare to say that your mind (like mine) won’t be in the right place to appreciate most of what is has to offer. Supply and demand, shady practices, dangers of crap reviews, the mental effects art can have on a person, the fickle way humans can act around fame and fortune - it’s all there for the person looking to disassemble a meaty thought experiment, and it uses them to a decent effect. Upon finding a dead person for the third time, one characters even goes from plain screaming in horror to a more “crap on me” reaction that brings a decent amount of self-reactive humor.
Largely though, if you are laughing at something in this movie, it’s not necessarily intended. The first appearance of the art critic had me laughing, but due to the fact that he pulled off the smug jerk look so astonishingly well I couldn’t help myself - even if the character is less smug jerk and more “art is spiritual” sort that has a bit of a moral arc across the movie. The characters largely give off the feeling of stereotypes one way or the other - the gay, or I suppose bisexual is more appropriate considering how the movie goes, art critic with a lavish grasp of language. The downtrodden lackey dreaming for hitting it big. The head honcho out to make as much as possible, but knowing also that friends are important despite the cutthroat practices she employs. A spattering of artists, from urban to tech-savvy to the corpse of a haunting man whose art takes the world by storm. Some have arcs, but most have Tales from the Crypt comeuppance to consolidate their moral failures as humans instead of super rich development qualities.
The actors still do a wonderful job with their roles though. Although I’m not always a huge fan of him, Gyllenhaal really kills it with his role, and he really becomes this believable character despite being so over-the-top at times. Malkovich is in there for some reason, but he fits the role of a struggling artist whose run his course relatively well because of it being him - he’s very good at presenting worn out with something still scratching to get out. Most of the characters do a good job of getting you to feel like they probably should - regardless of if that’s likeable or despise. Considering how much of the movie is focused on this, it’s a good thing the actors aren’t all asleep on the job, or things would get incredibly boring fast. That said, if you need some action to keep you interested you’ll probably be yawning a few times as things go along.
Effects here are what probably drew me in the most. There’s a lot of play to be had with the concept of art infused with ghost powers through some off-screen dark magic, Of course, I was slightly disappointed by the draw more towards the human parts than mystical demon paintings, but what’s here is good. Sometimes things are subtle - the subject of a picture changes while off screen, causing it to be looking elsewhere. Sometimes things move on screen, and it’s still not too bad looking. Occasionally you get a nice burning effect on the paintings, which also looks pretty good. There’s even one shot where blood is just spraying all over the place, and that looks alright. By far, my favorite effect is actually a scene with painted monkeys coming to life, largely because the depth of the picture changes with the camera movement. Beyond that, you could argue the different art is all effects as well - including “Hoboman” and the various paintings across the film.
Music is in here, as is sound effects, although most music doesn’t really stick around with me at all - especially after coming off the back of Bohemian Rhapsody. It does its job well enough for adding to scenes, be it trying to create relief, tension, or perhaps a bit of frantic. Sadly, it is used at times to be the scare which always is a debatable move when it comes to enjoyment - nobody really likes hearing those loud grating noises, even with the intent of jumps. The mix is good though, and there’s no trouble to be had hearing actor’s deliveries here. Although not really related to audio at all, it might appease the ladies to know that there’s a good number of dude butts and fit bods on display here two or three times as well.
It wasn’t what I wanted it to be entirely, but it was pretty alright. It had some good acting in it, a nice concept, and really probably should have been what I expected had I not been so laser-focused on the idea of killer art. Effects are good enough when they pop up, the plot is there, and it’s really got more to pick apart for those who really want to rip into it with their minds. I’ve seen worse movies at the time slot, and it certainly looks good enough to keep some happy - it’s really just a question of if people will enjoy the blend of mostly art-world commentary with that rumbling darkness of mystical terror. I’m happy enough with the viewing of it, but also really wouldn’t mind seeing the concept taken a bit further.