The latest film from Dan Gilroy has certainly split audiences. He directed Nightcrawler - starring Jake Gyllenhaal - back in 2014, which may be one of the most impressive directorial feature debuts in recent memory. Gilroy showcased such slick confidence, delivering one of the decade's superior thrillers with the aid of an unforgettable performance from Gyllenhaal in the lead.
His 2017 film - Roman J. Israel, Esq. - flew under the radar for many, and received middling reviews from critics; this takes us to Velvet Buzzsaw. His 2019 film distributed by Netflix also received middling reviews, and likely would have flown under the radar if not for such easy accessibility. An intriguing trailer dropped in the lead up to its release, teasing a bizarre plot and even stranger performances from Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, John Malkovich and more. All the ingredients were there for a memorable and unexpected horror-satire.
There have been many Netflix original films that feel a little too undisciplined. It's clear that the studio gives the filmmakers they work with a lot more freedom, and this clearly extends into the editing process. Although there are audiences who have found a lot to admire in Velvet Buzzsaw, there are those that argue it's a hulking mess; lots of content but no distinct vision. Personally, it needed a sharper script with a focus on the critique at its centre, as the genre elements didn't really have any effect. An odd plot, but maybe not odd enough? It either needed to run with its absurdity or sharpen up and sadly it was reluctant to commit to either.
Velvet Buzzsaw may have revealed something... are Netflix actively pursuing to attract cultists? Recent efforts such as Mute, The Night Comes for Us, Hold the Dark, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Other Side of the Wind and now this pose a strong argument in favour. These are productions which allow their directors to craft their visions uninterrupted, and often this leads to considerable audience division. However, these are the sorts of films which tend to attract reevaluation later in their lifespan - Mute, in particular, feels destined for such reconsideration. The Other Side of the Wind may have drawn in the last of the cinephiles who had yet to subscribe to Netflix. They are striving to cater to all.
This isn't a negative, it's most certainly a positive. Even when the films aren't quite as good as we expect, it's great to see Netflix offering good filmmakers the chance to exercise more authority over their projects. Yet, there is a reason to suspect that Netflix has cult audiences in mind when a majority of these efforts are being shaped. Recent series Maniac is destined for cultdom, as are Mute and the other films mentioned. Velvet Buzzsaw - on the other hand - feels like too much of an attempt, and if there is anything that cultists hate, it's when someone is trying to manufacture a cult film. It very rarely works out. Who knows though, we'll just have to wait and see.
In other news, what's next up for M. Night Shyamalan?