Netflix's 'Velvet Buzzsaw' is a vibrant and spooky satire movie worth watching

Claudette Barius/NetflixRenee Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw.’
  • “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a new Netflix original film by writer and director Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”).
  • The movie is a thriller set in the ritzy contemporary art world of Los Angeles.
  • Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo, and Zawe Ashton, the movie has a pitch-perfect satire that’s both fun and eerie.

Netflix continues its push of original movies with an early 2019 release of art thriller “Velvet Buzzsaw,” a satirical story set in Los Angeles among the rich and famous fictional faces of modern art. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo, and Zawe Ashton, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a worthy pick for any Netflix subscriber with a love of absurdist humour.

Why you should care: Writer and director Dan Gilroy struck gold the last time he worked with Gyllenhaal and Russo.

Gilroy’s 2014 movie “Nightcrawler” starred a transformed Gyllenhaal as a ruthless man desperate to climb the ladder of Los Angeles’ competitive crime reporting circle. Russo co-starred in that movie opposite Gyllenhaal, and both actors hit impressive notes on their over-the-top characters.

Now Gilroy’s “Velvet Buzzsaw” captures a similar dynamism, albeit with completely different characters in both tone and look.

Velvet Buzzsaw Netflix movie Zawe Ashton Jake Gyllenhaal Claudette Barius/NetflixZawe Ashton and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw.’

The lead cast is rounded out with Zawe Ashton, who tangos alongside Gyllenhaal as Josephina, the gallery owner who discovers her dead neighbours cache of compelling and twisted artwork. Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vanderwalt, an influential art critic who’s instantly captivated by the dead man’s art and eventually realises the deadly effect the pieces are having on those who profit from the posthumous fame of the creator.

What’s hot: The phenomenal cast and vibrant storytelling work in harmony with eerie atmospherics.

In addition to the three main stars, “Velvet Buzzsaw” has a great set of supporting actors who all bring a unique flair and humour to their scenes. These mini stars include Billy Magnussen (“Into the Woods,” “Maniac”), Natalia Dyer (“Stranger Things”), John Malkovich (“Being John Malkovich”), Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton,” “Blindspotting”), and Toni Collette (“Hereditary,” “Little Miss Sunshine”).

Velvet Buzzsaw Netflix movie Toni Collette Claudette Barius/NetflixToni Collette in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw.’

The costuming, cinematography, and score all blend to create a lush vision of the gallery owners, agents, and artists all vying for fame and money in the modern art world of Los Angeles. The movie veers into horror territory several times, but keeps things at an accessibly spooky level. For each of the jump-scares and bloody showdowns, there’s a biting line of absurdity that will make you laugh out loud.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Morf has several standalone scenes and lines that seem ready-made for turning into a GIF reactions, and there are many times when the pretentiousness of characters breaks into hilarious territory.

What’s not: The tantalising backstory of the horror isn’t satisfactorily explored.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” feels like a missed opportunity when it comes to the horrifying backstory of the artist responsible for the movie’s central drama.

Velvet Buzzsaw Netflix movie Claudette Barius/NetflixRenee Russo and Zawe Ashton in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw.’

Dease, the artist whose work is discovered after his death, is revealed to have been an abused child who grew up to have a deeply disturbing adult life. His art is all informed by this trauma, and his psychological demons embedded in the paintings are somehow able to manifest themselves into fresh terrors for our movie’s cast of characters.

But “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t dedicate enough time to the discovery of this backstory, instead devoting more energy to showing how preposterously vain and ambitious the art peddlers are.

The bottom line: “Velvet Buzzsaw” lands well for fans of satire and arthouse thrills.

Though not a perfect movie, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is fun, lush, and refreshingly knows exactly what it’s aiming to do. And the cast’s performances are pitch-perfect, down to the final wordless scene that plays out over the end credits.

Grade: B

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is available on Netflix starting Friday, February 1. Watch the trailer below.

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