WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Velvet Buzzsaw, streaming now on Netflix.
When it comes to cinematic ghost stories, M. Night Shyamalan set the bar pretty high with The Sixth Sense, while some others such as The Others barely manage to get the job done. Then there are those that are eerily sub-par, like Winchester, and the middling movies in the Paranormal Activity franchise.
However, if you're looking for the film that claims the mantle of being the worst ghost movie of all time, look no further than Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw.
Director Dan Gilroy and star Jake Gyllenhaal hit big in 2014 with Nightcrawler. While it wasn't a horror story, the movie did boast a sense of dread as Gyllenhaal portrayed a creepy hotshot reporter who'd do anything for a scoop, including kill. But here, Gylenhaal comes off painfully bland as Morf, an icy art reviewer and critic who somehow manages to also be a supernatural detective. That's the first misstep it takes, because a good ghost movie requires a solid lead or two; Morf, however, is a total waste of time.
He undertakes the task after his favorite museum ends up stealing a ghoulish collection from a dead man, paintings made using human blood, which makes some level of sense when we learn the artist was a serial killer. The ghost of the artist, Ventril Dease, then returns to haunt and murder the team responsible for the theft, leaving Morf to figure out how to stop the killings. Throughout the film, we're left waiting for Gilroy to turn the story from a commentary on paintings, design and the visual aesthetic of the world into a full-fledged horror affair, but sadly, it never comes.
Ghost movies need to be scary, so even if there's a weak lead, at least we can experience some heart-stopping moments and jump-scares. Alas, Velvet Buzzsaw isn't frightening in the least; just when you think the ghost just might make up for the lack of a decent protagonist, the methods it deploys to take conspirators out one by one fall flat. It's a supernatural thriller, yet the thrills are totally absent.
Josephina (Zawe Ashton), the worker who found the collection, dies when paint covers her body and then pulls her into a mural, turning her into a work of art. The museum's owner Rhodora (Rene Russo) is killed when the buzzsaw tattoo on the back of her neck comes to life, slashing her open and causing her to bleed out. And last but not least, Morf is raped and murdered by a robot art exhibit called Hoboman. All of these events occur in daylight or well-lit areas, leading you to wonder if the filmmakers even understand the concept of a horror. To top it all off, we never even see the ghost or Ventril when he's alive, committing mass murder and painting his bloody masterpieces.
Though Velvet Buzzsaw is packaged as a ghost story, it's really just a series of unfortunate accidents hoping to gain some level of an audience on the strength of its cast rather than scares in the story. Worst of all, there's no final battle or big confrontation between the ghost and the art thieves, leaving us with a movie where the scariest thing about it how it's a horrific waste of your time.
Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Dan Gilroy, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge and John Malkovich, is available to stream now on Netflix.