More noise than signal

Velvet Buzzsaw

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

The trailer for Velvet Buzzsaw looked mildly interesting, seguing from art criticism to bloody horror, but the real draw was from Jake Gylenhall starring in another film written and directed by Dan Gilmore, ala Nightcrawler. Could they rebottle that lightning?

Spoilers: no.

At this point I’d normally devote a few paragraphs to the film’s plot, but to be honest it’d be a waste of everyone’s time. Not, for once, because it’s badly done in and of itself, it’s just that it sets up so many strands that are ultimately unresolved, unless you count killing the protagonists for unrelated reasons a resolution.

Anyway, in a nutshell Gylenhall inhabits Morf Vandewalt, a highly influential art critic whose word can make or break careers. He goes about his routine interacting with other artists, agents and gallery owners like Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze. Finding his love life with his boyfriend unfulfilling he starts one with his friend, and employee of Haze, Zawe Ashtons’ Josephina.

For a while it trucks along examining the generally unsavoury or ridiculous lives and relationships of these people before taking a hard left when a elderly gent in Josephina’s apartment building dies, leaving behind a body of dark, disturbing art that, spoilers, is haunted. And somehow causes other art to be haunted. Which then kills people, with no regard to any internal logic, rhyme or reason.

It’s not entirely clear for a while that “random murder” is the path this film’s committing to, as for a while it seems to be aiming for some investigative look at the artist’s life as Morf researches a book, before abandoning that, or at the psychological toll this takes on survivors as people start showing up dead in grisly tableaus, before abandoning that, or how it affects the already strained relationships of the leads, before abandoning that. All strands abandoned in favour of an admittedly often fun murderous special effect, but it does leave this film feeling like a directionless waste of time and effort.

I’d heard some take recently disliking it as it was pushing a message of criticism being inherently worthless and feeling like it was a thin-skinned reaction piece on Gilmore’s part. I think that’s giving this film far too much credit, because I don’t think it’s anything like cohesive or thought out enough to be accused of holding any sort of meaning or message at all.

Really, this is very much less than the sum of its parts. The thing of it is, a lot of those parts I quite liked, taken by themselves. The acting’s all pretty good, with support from the likes of Toni Collette and John Malkovich. The characters are all interesting in various ways and nothing like as one-note as the trailer might have led us to believe, and in general all the production values are very high.

Apart, that is, from the script, which feels like four decent enough story ideas passed thorough a woodchipper and reassembled at random, and is ultimately a waste of everyone’s time that doesn’t deserve a great deal of analysis. So let’s not do that.

Frustratingly, that’s not to say I hated watching Velvet Buzzsaw – the performances, characters, effects, et al are good enough to have it pass muster as a casual watch, but I absolutely hate thinking about Velvet Buzzsaw. It’s very much a film that gets less enjoyable with every second spent thinking about it, so let’s not do that.