In Velvet Buzzsaw director Dan Gilroy teams up with the leads from his directorial debut Nightcrawler. Whilst Nightcrawler set out to condemn local news television this time he casts an unfavourable judgement on the world of high art.
Morf Vendewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a vain and pompous art critic with the mythical illusory power to make or break exhibitions and careers with his words. Meanwhile, Rene Russo plays Rhodora Haze, a cold and powerful art dealer. The film centres around Haze’s protégé and Vendewalt’s love interest Josephina (Zawe Ashton) finding a collection of paintings after a man in her building dies. Against the wishes of the departed the paintings are not destroyed and are instead sold to the highest bidder. That is until they kill anyone who was seeking to profit from them.
The horror aspect of this film was done well. In many horror films, the victims are complicit in their own deaths, failing to take even basic precautions to ensure their own safety. There was none of that here as victims were either taken by complete surprise or killed despite concerted efforts to escape. The rational behaviour of the victims evokes greater fear as unlike other horror films, the audience are similarly unable to identify a route to survival.
The film is a successful satire of the behaviour of those around high art. The scene where a dead body is mistaken for an installation and children are allowed to play in the blood is an exaggerated statement of the film’s essential ideas. People so detached from reality that they cannot differentiate a dead body from an art instillation. In the aftermath, attendance to the other parts of the exhibit soars. To the people of the art world, death incites a perverse curiosity. This disconnect from reality is again highlighted in one of the films deliberate laughs when an art dealer stops at a pile of bin bags astonished with their beauty only to be informed by the artist that it is indeed just trash.
The rebellion of art against the pretentious world in which it is forced to live is seen throughout the film. The art enacts revenge on those who lack integrity and have exploited it for their own greed. It is not just Dease’s paintings which are killing – characters are attacked by any art installation around them, including a twenty-year-old tattoo. At the end of the film the art appears to be content with being sold on a street corner for five dollars. That the art chooses to be sold in an unassuming manner to ordinary people serves to reinforce that high art profiteers were the target of its contempt. The attractiveness of the colours that kill Josephina shows us there is some beauty, or at least justice, in these deaths.
Velvet Buzzsaw conveys a clear distaste for the people who operate around high art. Satire is used particularly well to this effect. Nonetheless, the movie struggles to find its rhythm.
Early on it has a slow and unspectacular build up; it’s forty minutes until anything supernatural happens. Then, the main three characters die in a dozen minute killing spree at the end. In light of this, the film feels rushed, and the storyline truncated. Despite its flaws Velvet Buzzsaw is a fun and thought-provoking film and ultimately two hours well spent.