As you've probably heard, Netflix’s new original movie Velvet Buzzsaw premiered on the streaming platform this past Friday, February 1st. The internet hasn’t stopped buzzing about the film since. Perhaps it’s the fact that Velvet Buzzsaw is the first mainstream horror flick to mock the art world (...or maybe it's because of the many Jake Gyllenhaal nude scenes). Whatever the reason, the online community lost its sh*t over this movie, firing off tweets and creating memes as soon as it aired.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the film’s plot is simple: after finding a trove of mesmerizing art in her dead neighbor's apartment, gallerina Josephina (Zawe Ashton) starts capitalizing on the works of the late outsider artist—named Ventril Dease—along with art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), and curator-turned-art advisor Gretchen (Toni Collette). Unfortunately, Dease’s oeuvre is haunted (haunted!) and starts seeking revenge on all of them.
Instead of adding to the already over saturated Velvet Buzzsaw virtual conversation, we’ve decided to review the reviews of this movie, like we did with the Andy Warhol retrospective at the Whitney, “From A to B and Back Again.” Through examining reviews from Slate, Artnet, Ars Technica, Artsy, Observer, The Verge, Vulture, and CNN it's clear that while most feedback was negative for the same reasons, there were a few positive qualities that redeemed the movie for some. Here are the most salient take-aways:
1. It’s not actually scary.
Fans of the horror genre were most disappointed by the fact that this film, marketed as a scary movie, was barely chilling. Artnet wrote, "In the end, the imagery of Dease’s art—spooky children, evil monkeys, haunted dolls—is just a little too much stock horror shtick to stick deeply in the brain. The best kills in the film are the 'artiest'—and none of the scares will be quite scary or gruesome enough for die-hard horror aficionados."
Similarly, Artsy lamented that "For a movie with such a high corpse-count, this one is surprisingly bloodless—an inert slog that elicits neither chills nor laughter… too corny to spook, not campy enough to elevate this to American Horror Story’s level of broad, dumb fun."
And the Observer had one of our favorite one liners: "It’s basically a tensionless Zoolander for the art world, with a Beetlejuice level of gore."
2. The film missed the mark in its portrayal of the art world.
For many critics, the blatant unrealistic art world depictions were distracting. The Observer wrote, "the first scene depicts a crowd of collectors who can’t get into Art Basel, while critic Morf Vandewalt walks in without any trouble at all. As Carolina Miranda noted over Twitter, 'The first piece of comedy is that someone *wouldn’t* be able to get into Art Basel.' The second is that someone thought to cast critics as more powerful than the average art world peon."
According to Artnet, "the really unrealistic thing is how much sheer clout the art critic wields in this particular parallel art universe, putting him on the same power plane as all the other players, with a huge sense of his king-making power to match."
Along with the erroneous amount of power Jake Gyllehnhal's art critic character possesses within the industry, viewers were also perplexed by how much money he seemed to make. The Verge explained, "For the vast majority of working writers, Velvet Buzzsaw is no more an accurate portrayal of a critic’s life than it is an accurate portrayal of magic murder-art."
3. It’s an all-star cast full of one-dimensional characters.
Everyone seemed excited by the A-list actors involved in this production (Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Toni Collette) but noticed their characters lacked depth. Ars Technica wrote that the "stellar cast all deliver excellent performances, but the characters are more colorful types than complex personalities (whether you deem them mere stereotypes or horror archetypes likely depends on your perspective)." Likewise, The Verge said, "The film’s ensemble is talented, and the writing is frequently witty. But the characters and plot aren’t distinctive enough to mesmerize viewers the way Dease’s art mesmerizes Morf."
4. Everyone loves Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt.
Slate raved, "Gyllenhaal, a perpetually underrated comic performer, amplifies the goofy fun of rants like 'I assess out of adoration! I further the realm I analyze!' Morf’s logorrheic seduction of Josephina (he describes her skin as “the most beautiful cross between almond and saddle brown”) feels hilariously doomed from the start, but the precise linguistic bouquets he tosses at the works he loves ultimately make his love of art seem genuine, even moving."
Vulture compared Gyllenhaal’s Morf to Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman, in that they're both "quotably absurd characters." They wrote, "It’s clear between this and Nightcrawler that Gilroy and Gyllenhaal have some kind of gonzo chemistry."
5. The outfits are on point.
Most people couldn't get enough of what the cast was wearing. Artsy pointed out that "Practically the only right notes the film hits are sartorial ones; whoever curated the eyeglasses and shoes here knew what they were doing." The Verge also noted that the "colorful, uniformly narcissistic ensemble enter and exit in fabulous outfits as they weave a tangled web of money, sex, and influence, but we know we’re really just there to see who dies and how brutally."
6. Even though the parody flounders, it’s still highly entertaining.
For Ars Technica, "Velvet Buzzsaw has less obvious camp, but it's best enjoyed in the same spirit. If you relax and enjoy the film on its own terms, and don't look too hard for some deeply profound meaning, it's a smartly satisfying romp." Slate pointed out that "Few satirical subjects are as easy as the art world, but Gilroy also manages to make his sendup feel like more than a series of potshots, while sketching a rough but convincing portrait of the corrupt system by which art fortunes are made or dashed." Ultimately, Vulture decided that "Even if Velvet Buzzsaw starts to sputter slightly after it’s made its point, it’s plenty exciting to witness the incredibly specific madness they whip up together."