By Cody Conrad
The new film “Velvet Buzzsaw” is caught between a quintessential chick flick and a tolerable horror film. If you take away the thrilling aspects of the new Netflix original, it’s about successful art gallery workers trying to make it big. The horror scenes are decent — they are not as terrifying as major movies like “The Conjuring” and “Hereditary,” but scary enough to make me shield my eyes.
The movie is about the art gallery assistant Josephine struggling to make it big in the art world. She stumbles upon her recently deceased neighbor’s stash of art. The only downside is that anybody who profits from the art, gets killed by it. Throughout the rest of the movie, you see the characters trying to figure out what’s going on. “Buzzsaw” is a satirical piece about the art world and it’s crafted brilliantly to show just how crazy and cutthroat that industry really is while using killer art as its vessel.
The distinct personalities of the characters are what makes the film somewhat memorable. Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a bisexual art critic, whose reviews make or break the success of exhibits and artists. Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is an assistant to Rhodora (Rene Russo), the overbearing gallery director. Josephina, desperate to be successful, develops a cutthroat no-mercy attitude.
Another notable main character is Gretchen (Toni Collette), an art museum curator who rises above her station and steps on those underneath her. Some notable supporting actors include John Malkovich (Piers), Billy Magnussen (Bryson), Natalia Dyer (Coco) and Daveed Diggs (Damrish).
The relationships between the art gallery members, such as Morf, Gretchen, Rhodora and Josephina, are defined by betrayals and secrets. Malkovich, who is best known for his dry humor and serious tone, plays an artist who has lost his touch and is trying to come back into fame again. Magnussen, who has previously starred in “Bridge of Spies” and Netflix originals “Maniac” and “Birdbox,” plays the creepy art gallery technician. Dyer, most famous for her role as Nancy in “Stranger Things,” plays a bubbly, overwhelmed gallery assistant. Finally, Diggs, who was made famous by the hit musical “Hamilton,” plays a successful street artist making it into the big leagues.
The acting in this movie has its highs and lows. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Morf is so exemplary and his emotions are so genuine. In one scene, Gyllenhaal’s character, Morf, goes through a severe mental breakdown and you can feel the power in Gyllenhaal’s performance. Through yelling and body language, Gyllenhaal’s emotions come rushing out to the viewer and are almost tangible.
Although Gyllenhaal is memorable, Ashton falls short. The way the character is written and the way that the director wants to portray Josephina doesn’t quite match up with the actress’ talent. In one scene, Ashton is supposed to be shocked and devastated, but instead we are given a lifeless stare and a monotone voice. While that part was a little unsettling, the acting is otherwise quite good in the film. Collette, Malkovich, Magnussen, Dyer and Diggs all contribute quality acting to the movie and make it enjoyable to watch.
At times, “Buzzsaw” is a spectacle for its visual artistry. The introduction is an animation similar to that of “Pink Panther” and “Catch Me If You Can.” Its style foreshadows the art that becomes the main subject of the film — when a new exhibit opens the TV screen splits to simultaneously reveal the art and the characters reactions to them.
Out of the hundreds of movies that I have seen, this kind of cinematography is new and quite unprecedented. The audio in the film adds intensity to each scene. It is particularly important in the soundproof room scene, where Morf is examining a new art exhibit. When inside, his mental state begins to fall apart and he starts hearing voices. The film gives viewers the illusion that these voices are coming from the left, the right and even from behind. This effect creates an intimate and eerie sensation, which allows viewers to experience Morf’s breakdown alongside him. The scene ends with audio of a car skidding, which comes to a crescendo and suddenly stops to symbolize Morf’s fragile mental state, which adds to the eerie atmosphere.
In short, if symbolism, good acting and a great plot are what you look for in a movie, then “Velvet Buzzsaw” provides a lasting escape from reality.