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“Velvet Buzzsaw”: A weird, mesmerizing mixed bag

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“Velvet Buzzsaw”: A weird, mesmerizing mixed bag

Ben Wheeler, Online Editor

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“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a Netflix original film that was directed by Dan Gilroy and released Feb. 1 on the streaming platform and in select theaters. An interesting clash of modern horror and the elite art scene, “Velvet Buzzsaw” opens with the seemingly daily routine of art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his colleagues as they seek to impress or be impressed in art showcases in Miami Beach.

Things take a dark turn when a friend and colleague of Morf, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), discovers the body of a man named Ventril Dease in her apartment building. Josephina soon discovers that Dease was an artist himself and steals his art to showcase and sell, as it has a mesmerizing effect. The cast of characters soon learns that Dease’s personal demons did not die with him. They live on through his art, ready to horrify and inflict pain (or worse) on the living.

Where this film is perhaps most effective is in its visual choices, mostly in shot selection. What lingered most in my memory after watching the film were the medium and close up point-of-view shots of Dease’s paintings. The extensive duration of these shots is what makes them work; Dease’s paintings are usually at minimum weird and at their worst, very disturbing. Having the viewer look at them for such a long stretch creates a similar mesmerizing effect to what the characters feel when looking at the paintings in the movie. It is uncomfortable, but at the same time the audience can’t look away.

The film also has a significant psychedelic influence on its visual effects, most noticeable in the opening credits where drawings morph and dissolve into different images while the drawings themselves spin around the screen as they change. Equally trippy is the blurred motion with which the subjects in the paintings seem to move when stared at for an extensive period of time.

The horror elements are a bit of a mixed bag. While the buildups to the big scares and set pieces are quite good, not all of them have big payoffs.  Some of these scenes take unexpected turns, but others are telegraphed pretty badly and, as a result, are easy to predict. I will say the scares get more creative as the film moves along, so the viewer has to just “tolerate” the first couple of scares that are quite bland. One tense scene uses brightly colored paints in a digital effect that is simply a spectacle to behold. A scene from a horror film has no business being that beautiful to look at; it makes you wish that the film had employed more color in its other dramatic scenes.

The characters and actor performances are another mixed bag. The big problem with the characters themselves is that they are not likable, not in the slightest. Think of all the stereotypes associated with elite art communities and high societies that you have seen, read or heard about. I promise you, those stereotypes are present in these characters. Many of them are shallow, ruthless and incredibly petty. There is no good without bad and vice versa, but to have at least one major character to not roll your eyes at would have been nice. Still, the cast of characters is quite diverse in their actions and are well-written.

The actor performances are mostly just okay, all of them have good and bad/cheesy moments. Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as always, but Natalie Dyer, who plays the minor character Coco, is uncharacteristically bad. In multiple scenes she dramatically overacts, which is a shame because she is one of the better performers on Netflix’s star-studded show “Stranger Things.”

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a very unique film, which both helps and hinders it.  There are a lot of new and fresh ideas on display, which makes it worth checking out. However, I am unsure about its re-watch value with its clichés and pretentious dialogue/sequences. Since it seems to have a very specific niche, I can only give it a rating of three out of five stars. According to the Rotten Tomatoes official website, it has a critic score of 66 percent and audience score of 42 percent.

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