My adoration for Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is immense. The thought him collaborating again with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo on a new movie that skewers the pretentions of the art world gave me hope that Velvet Buzzsaw would be halfway decent. Instead, we’re treated to a horrid mess of a film.
Tonally all over the place, this broad satire falls flat in almost every case. Gyllenhaal’s fey bisexuality starts out as interesting character work and then devolves into wide-eyed camp. Other powerhouse performers, including Daveed Diggs, Zawe Ashton, Natalia Dyer, and Toni Collette all try to navigate the plot’s various turns to differing levels of success. Only John Malkovich seems above it all, which is fitting as his character seems to be the one that Gilroy most identifies with.
A mix of art parody and murder drama, the movie feels like a TV skit that’s gone on too long. Even Robert Elswit’s photography looks needlessly glossy. The master cinematographer makes some pretty pedestrian imagery even when it’s meant to be art gallery quality.
As the carnage becomes more and more ornate, the film revels in comically baroque endings, including one for Gyllenhaal that tastelessly evokes his Brokeback Mountain breakthrough. Others can decide whether the treatment constitutes homophobia, tastelessness, or a combination of both, but if the satire was on point much could be forgiven. Unfortunately, it all lands as a thud, making the offensiveness even that more… well, offensive.
A flop by any measure, the movie’s greatest flaw may be its attempt at tongue-in-cheek cleverness. Its salaciousness is supposed to be metatextual commentary, but the results are pretty dire. The project is a poor reflection on those involved and a crushing disappointment for fans of what came before. It’s probably best that it’ll be lost within the morass of Netflix streaming, where we can pretend that we’re still waiting for a follow-up the same caliber as Nightcrawler and simply look away as this dud crawls out from our memories.