It’s starting to feel as though Netflix’s original films are cursed. Aside from a few exceptions, it seems their movies always seem to underwhelm despite how much talent, hype or money they put into them.
Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” saw critical acclaim but that’s a needle in a dense, expensive haystack. It seems Netflix can’t catch a break when it comes to their original movies. And it seems the trend is continuing with its latest release “Velvet Buzzsaw.”
The Los Angeles-based horror flick is helmed by Dan Gilroy. He previously wrote and directed “Nightcrawler,” which starred Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopathic, power-hungry maniac desperate to find success in crime scene photography. “Nightcrawler” thrived because of a great script, great direction and an amazing performance from Gyllenhaal, all of which seem absent from “Velvet Buzzsaw.” This movie feels preachy, corny, poorly written and is filled with poor acting throughout. The low budget also rears its ugly head by taking the punch out of some big moments.
“Velvet Buzzsaw” follows a group of people in the LA art scene. Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is an art critic who is well known and respected for his curation. His friend Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) owns a gallery that he frequents with his girlfriend Josephina (Zawe Ashton) who works for Haze.
The film explores the older generation of art clashing with the new. It follows a fairly inconsequential plot revolving around a young black artist Damrish (Daveed Diggs) and an older, sober, burnout artist Piers (John Malkovich). Sounds like an interesting movie that could explore some fun themes about art, right? Well, it’s not.
The storyline unravels as Josephina walks out of her apartment one day to find a dead man in front of her door. She then goes ahead and breaks into his apartment where she finds thousands of paintings that are both beautiful and haunting. But there’s something mysterious afoot. These paintings are alive, and they’re trying to kill anyone who lays their hands on them.
What follows is an awkward, stilted, ugly and oftentimes boring movie. The dialogue straddled a line between intentional awkwardness and irksome pretentiousness, and it rarely succeeded in making either bearable. It seemed like Gilroy was trying to poke fun at the art community, but this message seemed to get muddled. Characters would often go into long, jargon-filled monologues that wavered between annoying and tongue-in-cheek.
The performance choices from many of the main characters, especially Gyllenhaal, were confusing to say the least. It does not feel like the actors bring anything interesting to the screen. Most of the other performances were so bogged down by the mediocre writing that they failed to make any standing impression. When they inevitably die, it’s hard to feel much of anything.
For a movie about art, it wasn’t artistically pleasing. The cinematography felt flat throughout, and the color pallette felt bright and washed out. Other than some nice outfits that the characters wore, there wasn’t much to look at. There were a few moments where the visuals attempted to do something interesting, often involving the paintings, but looked cheap instead. There was very little suspense in this movie, which is a mistake that many horror movies seem to make these days.
I loved “Nightcrawler” and was so looking forward to “Velvet Buzzsaw, but it managed to be just another in Netflix’s long line of disappointments unfortunately.