Much like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you probably shouldn’t judge a film by its trailer. But Velvet Buzzsaw, the upcoming Jake Gyllenhaal-starring Netflix movie, is so completely absurd, it’s hard not to immediately leap to conclusions about the whole thing.
The movie’s premise is this: Zawe Ashton’s Josephina discovers a series of haunting paintings by a recently deceased and unknown artist, and takes them to the ridiculously named art dealer Morf Vanderwalt (Gyllenhaal) to sell on. The pair begin raking in the cash (“Demand has people ready to kill,” claims Toni Collette’s gallery owner Gretchen) but things take a terrifying and bizarre turn when the paintings begin to not only come to life but attack people.
Cue some fantastically absurd scenes in which one man seems to spontaneously be engulfed by flames while he’s driving his truck. When he tries to clean himself up at a sink beneath one of the paintings, the chimps within the frame reach out and try to strangle him. In another clip, the colours flood out of a piece of art hung in a gallery, along the floor, and all over Josephina’s entire body. Her reaction is to scream her lungs out but, to be quite honest, it seems like she’s getting off lightly compared to the other guy. Better to look like a bit of multi-coloured marble than suffer asphyxiation at the hands of acrylic monkeys.
The trailer is filled with this kind of overwrought acting, not least when it comes to Gyllenhaal’s scenes. When he tries to explain what’s going on with the seemingly possessed paintings, his eyes look like they’re about to pop out of his skull and he yells: “Something truly goddamn strange is going on!” You don’t say, Jake. There’s also a truly great bit when a robot that appeared at an art fair at the start of the trailer suddenly reappears as Gyllenhaal tries to lock the artwork away. It blocks the art dealer’s path with a crutch and creepily croaks, “I can save you”.
Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t just some absurd, twisted horror movie, though. It seems as though writer and director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Roman J. Israel, Esq.) wants it to make some big points about both the art world and society. The paintings seem only to attack the wealthy or corrupt because they hold “a disgust for the world of money.” There’s also an unbelievable scene where Gretchen is murdered in the gallery overnight and discovered by visitors the next day who think she’s part of an exhibit. “We’re trending on Instagram,” Josephina quavers. “It’s a major hit.” But even with the world’s addiction to ‘like’-grabbing content and viral fame, the idea that not one person – including the gallery’s staff – would think to check the pools of blood and lifeless body weren’t real seems more than a little extreme.
From the looks of it, Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t going to be one of the best films of 2019. That doesn’t mean we won’t be streaming it the second it hits the internet, though. The trailer is so over-the-top and bizarre that it bypasses ‘bad’ and enters territory very few films inhabit – awful but with some strange, magnetic pull that means you just can’t look away. You can stream Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix from February 1. Don’t say you’re not intrigued.