Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): 0.5

USA, 2019Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by Music by , Production Design by Costume Design by , Film Editing by

Dan Gilroy follows the exceptional Nightcrawler and the absorbing Roman J. Israel Esq. with a remarkably bad misfire that sets a horror story in the world of high art. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a snotty critic who is unable to understand the effect that his cutting opinions have on the artists under his knife, while also enjoying a terse friendship with a series of people in his milieu: a gorgeous gallery owner () who has no shame about her crooked ways of succeeding in her business, a museum curator (Toni Collette) who gives up her job to work for private collectors, and a rival gallery owner (Tom Sturridge) who is looking to succeed at Russo’s game. Gyllenhaal is also cheating on his boyfriend with Russo’s right-hand woman (), who is on her way out the door one morning when she discovers that a man in her building has died. Entering his apartment, she finds that the deceased has left behind him a treasure trove of previously unseen paintings that catch her eye and she quickly gathers them up. Everyone who comes in contact with these visceral images declares them masterful, and before long they quickly become the center of a feeding frenzy in which anyone who gets involved in the unknown artist’s oeuvre tries to get as rich as possible. What they don’t know, and what the film never properly gets a handle on narratively, is that exploiting these paintings comes with a very high price, as they carry their master’s spirit with them and are capable of bringing these very self-involved people to some pretty nasty ends. There’s probably an overarching theme about the art world’s inability to appreciate art in here somewhere, a harsh indictment of individuals who have destroyed the value of creativity with their ceaseless capitalist ambitions, but Gilroy’s lecture is severely diminished by confused storytelling, particularly the highly inconsistent method by which the malevolent force operates (some deaths have a Final Destination tinge to them, others are purely conceptual). It’s heartbreaking to have a film with such a strong visual style be so fundamentally devoid of any impact, from the characters who are brimming with personality but move in no specific direction, to the plot’s confusion over its genre, committing neither to lofty arthouse auteur cinema nor grindhouse indulgence and finding nothing worthwhile in the grey area between.

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