Starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Rating unavailable
Nightcrawler came out of nowhere in 2014 with a seriously creepy premise and a balls-out performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that distracted just enough from the film’s problems. This encore from writer-director Dan Gilroy is attracting a lot of buzz (so to speak), more than it deserves, and suffers from equivalent weaknesses, but still has Gyllenhaal’s outsize performance as Morf Vandewalt to keep the Twitter memes rolling.
He’s an implausibly wealthy and influential (not to mention implausibly buff) Los Angeles art critic who swishes into the opening scene with more zeal than the late Carol Channing, providing a very uncertain moral centre to the film’s exuberant takedown of the high-art world. Vandewalt is surrounded by a smartly drawn cast of wealthy, high-powered assholes. Velvet Buzzsaw is at its best with these acid-etched caricatures, a gallery of polymorphously pretentious hipster desperadoes all trying to screw each other over, from Rene Russo’s L.A. punk turned cold-blooded superagent Rhodora Haze, to Daveed Diggs’s Basquiat/Banksy-esque street artist Damrish, to Toni Collette’s witheringly dangerous gallery owner Gretchen.
We want most of these fuckers to die, just on principle, and the film obliges when Josephina (Zawe Ashton)—an ambitious assistant to Haze and booty call to Morf—senses the next big thing in a cache of childlike paintings left by a recently dead neighbour. His last wish was to have the art destroyed; instead it prompts scheming from all sides. Not so tragically, the supernaturally possessed artwork starts killing the most ethically impaired of this deliciously repugnant crew.
The deaths are sufficiently fun, especially one character’s suggestive dispatch by an animatronic installation piece called Hoboman. But Velvet Buzzsaw never reconciles its moods, mixing its outré humour and satisfyingly nasty wish fulfillment with an inelegant grasp of horror.
Midnight Madness types will find it all rather ordinary, especially if they remember either Ghostbusters II or Denholm Elliott being menaced by his own creation in 1971’s The House That Dripped Blood. Ultimately, there’s nothing here as wild as Velvet Buzzsaw or the Internet wants you to think.
Interestingly enough, Gilroy reverses Nightcrawler’s biggest sin, which was saddling Russo with a part that was simply impossible to believe. Here, she’s given somebody we can all recognize, maybe even admire in a sick way, and she steals the film. It’s the one act of theft that deserves to go unpunished.