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Film Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

7 February 19 words: Emma Walsh

Does Dan Gilroy's Velvet Buzzsaw deserve to be grouped in the category of quality content Netflix fans have noticed since the New Year?

Director: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Zawe Ashton

Running time: 113 minutes

Velvet Buzzsaw, a Netflix Original thriller, portrays the tragic past of a recently deceased artist, Ventric Dease. His demonic creations come to life to terrorise members of the modern artistic world, as they themselves are forced to become pieces of art in an exceptionally expressed message about commercialism.

The film, although open to interpretation, seems to be split into two halves. The first explores the competitive world of the contemporary artist, a somewhat insightful section of the film that delves into issues such as finding agents, negotiating gallery representation, and deciding on ‘the next big thing’ in the industry. The second half better encapsulates the tension inherent of the thriller genre, as the art begins to psychologically torment characters. However, it has to be said that, although dubbed a thriller by Netflix, Velvet Buzzsaw lacks the edge-of-your-seat tension inherent of the genre, which is perhaps better demonstrated in films such as Fincher’s Gone Girl and Peele’s Get Out.

In terms of characters, Morf Vandewalt is arguably the best in the film - Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic in his portrayal of the bisexual persona. Through his body language, his style choices, his tone, language and overall flair, Gyllenhaal celebrates gay identity through his role. Unfortunately, it is difficult to sympathise with the other protagonists, as gallery owner, Rhedora Haze (Rene Russo) and agent, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) become tiresome as the film goes on, seemingly submitting to the pretentious stereotype surrounding people of the artistic world.

It offers a poignant message about commercialism

Although it is arguable whether Velvet Buzzsaw can be considered an effective thriller in the same way as preceding successes, the message it relays is nonetheless a powerful and important one in our modern-day society. For one, it highlights the ridiculous amount of value we place on social media, the idea that tragedies are photographed and posted before receiving the status of ‘trending’ on popular sites like Instagram, harshly demonstrating this dependence. But perhaps more importantly to Velvet Buzzsaw’s subject matter, it offers a poignant message about commercialism and how it is through too high a focus on this that art becomes less appreciated as art, and more celebrated for its profitability. It is this message that drives the plot as the art essentially fights back against the characters who represent this idea of commercialism.

Although Velvet Buzzsaw exhibits impressive performances, most notably Gyllenhaal, the level of tension usually expected of a thriller is not met, perhaps due to the film’s focus on the inner workings of the artistic world in the first half of the film. This would therefore make for a disappointing watch for those expecting a higher degree of suspense. However, the message conveyed through the content’s association with this genre is important, and this idea in itself perhaps warrants a watch.

Did you know? Director Dan Gilroy stated that Robert Altman's The Player was the main cinematic influence for Velvet Buzzsaw

Velvet Buzzsaw is screening on Netflix now

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