Writer/director Dan Gilroy has proven himself as a master of demonstrating the craving for more. Whether it’s more ratings or more money, the characters in his films have a desire for more than they possess or the best of what they seek. For instance, the sinister Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is always on the hunt for the next juicy story and is willing to shed blood in order to get it. But in Velvet Buzzsaw, our main characters that are involved in the world of art dealing are always craving the most marketable paintings. They even go far enough to the point where they’ll tamper with artistry that is literally cursed.
It may seem like Velvet Buzzsaw is cut from the same cloth as Nightcrawler for reasons besides the casting of Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. However, what makes it different is that it is far more grotesque and slightly more allegorical in terms of the conflict it presents. The malevolent spirit that haunts our protagonists serves as a metaphor for the consequences of having so much thirst for wealth and privilege.
Also, this world of art collecting we’re introduced to does feel rather otherworldly thanks to the costume and production design as well as the colorful performances from the main cast. One of the biggest standouts in the cast, though, is newcomer Zawe Ashton as Josephina, a receptionist looking to further her career in the art-collecting industry. Ashton portrays Josephina as a figure of skepticism mixed with lustful determination, making her the film’s rather complicated moral center.
However, the always reliable Jake Gyllenhaal manages to be the co-MVP of the cast along with Ashton. As flamboyantly queer art critic Morf Vandewalt, Gyllenhaal brings plenty of charismatic zest when he’s on screen that morphs into crazed panic once Morf digs deeper into the dark secrets behind the artistry that both he and Josephina discover. Even if his performance doesn’t quite top his career-best work in Nightcrawler, he still proves that he’s one of those actors who seems incapable of giving a phoned-in performance.
In addition, Rene Russo impresses as Rhodora who is like Nina Romina from Nightcrawler if she were an art dealer. Also, actors like Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, and Tom Sturridge manage to impress. All of whom are completely in sync with the off-kilter tone that Velvet Buzzsaw offers.
Velvet Buzzsaw does present a horror premise with its supernatural entity as the villain and our main characters getting killed off one by one in gruesome fashions. However, there are also elements of black comedy to be found. Particularly with the way that certain characters react to the mysterious events taking place.
Grotesque, darkly funny, and immersive all at once, Velvet Buzzsaw is completely chaotic in the best possible ways. It’s a complete genre bender and is quite possibly Dan Gilroy’s best film to date. As previously mentioned, he’s got a clear vision and it is curious to see how, or if, he will continue to tackle some of the darker cravings that humans possess.