“Velvet Buzzsaw,” a hot mess of high art horror-satire from Netflix, is the absolute best kind of bad movie. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”), the film is such a nebulous rollercoaster of jumbled ideas and characters that there is not one dull moment throughout. It works so unintentionally well because it balances a viewer’s reactions between “What am I watching?” and “This is so ridiculous I can’t stop.”
Jake Gyllenhaal (“Wildlife”) plays a cynical, cheeky art critique with the meticulously lazy bangs and thin black wire-rimmed glasses to match. To complete the caricature, think of the most over-the-top art critique name you can. Do you have it? I have a better one: Morf Vandewalt. His character faces dark and paranormal consequences when an agent, Josephina (Zawe Ashton, “Nocturnal Animals”), steals the paintings of recently deceased artist Ventril Dease and begins to sell them. To be fair, the plot is hardly the draw of “Buzzsaw.” Every single line of dialogue in this movie is so breathlessly written that I actually started making a list of Morf’s most memorable verbal ruminations. You will discover some of them below.
To quote from Vandewalt, “A bad review is better than sinking into the great glut of anonymity.” He’s right. And as a staunch advocate for the power of bad movies, I cannot let this one go unnoticed. Truthfully, it would be easy to tear this movie apart for what it is. But I can’t. The reason is that, unlike in so many bad movies, the cast and crew of “Buzzsaw” seem completely genuine in their effort. Nothing is awarely awful about the movie, and yet everything is laughable. It’s a precarious Jenga tower of scenes that don’t at all cut together, two-dimensional, inexplicably fickle characters and perplexing plotting that appears to have even escaped the understanding of its author. For all these things “Buzzsaw” deserves far more than a rudimentary rant.
I’ll again allow Vandewalt’s wisdom to guide me: “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining. I’ve always wanted to do something long form, dip my toes into an exploration of origin and essence. A metamorphosis of spirit into reality.” Whatever that means.
In the name of dipping my toes into an exploration of origin and essence, here are some of my most noteworthy observations from “Velvet Buzzsaw”: The most fitting metaphor to describe the film is that it centers around dumpster paintings for which the entire art community immediately clamors. “They’re visionary, mesmeric,” Vandewalt admits immediately after a once-over. While the Dease collection becomes the next hottest collection in the pretentious and stuffy world of art buyers, the group that Gilroy fails to sell on his own art is the audience of the film.
The movie frantically leaps around genres to such an extent that I’m not sure what was intentionally funny and what wasn’t. Although the finale does play out like the ending of a slasher movie and surely was not meant to evoke laughter, I couldn’t help but crack up the entire sequence. At times, art gala owners turn into professional investigators on a whim and banal love triangles appear out of thin air. It’s glorious.
The denouement of “Buzzsaw” is intentionally open-ended, unwilling to divulge the specific mechanics of the ghostly apparitions that haunt its periphery. To me, the actual reason for this ambiguity was that there was no legitimate way to explain any of the events in the film to begin with. Oh yeah, and John Malkovich appears in the end credits drawing lines of sand on a beach with a wooden stick. He was in the movie at some point. I think.
Given my aforementioned belief in the importance of bad movies, I cannot stress how important it is to see this one. It is as fun to discuss with others as it is to watch, a hollow interpretation of high art that only reaffirms to me that bad movies can be art after all. But, alas, I cannot do my own words justice. There’s only one man who can. My favorite Morf quote describes both his own convictions and mine in reviewing this movie: “This is my life. How I connect with some sort of spirituality. I assess out of adoration. I further the realm I analyze.”
Say what you will about the forgettability of “Velvet Buzzsaw” in the vast abyss of Netflix misfires, but Morf Vandewalt is an inspiring idea of a man. His movie may have failed, but he did indeed convince me to further the realm I analyze. So thanks, Morf.