Review: Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy, 2019) – Art is dangerous, more so for those who sell it for greed.

Verdict

Effective satire elevates the potentially campy slasher Velvet Buzzsaw to an incisive, layered work of art.

4/5

Review

For a horror film, Velvet Buzzsaw comes off much more introspective than its company. Its effectively satirical screenplay introduces the obnoxious rulers of its galleries in broad strokes, sharply critiquing the many artists and proprietors who value art solely for money.

There is Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the sneakers of the art critic, who believes that a bad review is better than sinking into the great glut of anonymity. Not only does he compromise in ethics by accepting favours. His reviews spit pure vitriol, as one soon hears in voices that manifest from his own guilt.

Also deserving of guilt are the art profiteers, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), Josephina (Zawe Ashton), Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge) and Gretchen (Toni Collette). The circle of gallerists and curators play varying roles of commodifying the works of deceased artist Vetril Dease, who specifically instructed that his paintings be destroyed, not sold.

Velvet Buzzsaw
“Come on now, let’s Gogh, we haven’t got all day.”

Retribution comes in no time. In the form of crimson that some mistake for paint, the usual suspects of a splatter film make unsettling appearances. Flickering lights accompany paintings that move ever so slightly, before landing its final, gruesome blow.

It is shock art at its finest, and much more in the hands of Dan Gilroy. Brilliant satire and dark humour frame what appears to be a kitschy slasher, exceeding a mere excuse for carnage. Owing credit to the cast, the to-be victims are made so despicably obnoxious and absurdly vile, that they practically earn their own grisly murders.

On the other hand are the serious artists Piers (John Malkovich) and Damrish (Daveed Diggs), whose love for Dease’s work exists on a different realm. They see beyond the monetary value of what Dease had created, and ultimately find the value in creating art for the sake of art; for nobody, but themselves.

Velvet Buzzsaw
A day in the life of a pre-school teacher.

For all the guts spilled, some may choose to dismiss this as a veer of direction for Dan Gilroy, who has himself painted several masterpieces including The Fall and Nightcrawler (review). But his incisive takes on human nature remain beneath the seemingly random body count.

Indeed, this is not just Samara’s vengeful video tape, or Jason Voorhees’ rage against his camp counsellors. Behind the terror of Velvet Buzzsaw is the cutting commentary on art that even Rhodora understands, “Dependency murders creativity. Creativity plays with the unknown. No strategies exist that can enclose the endless realm of the new. Only trust in yourself can carry you past your fears and the already known.”

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14 thoughts on “Review: Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)”

    1. Thanks Josh! Natalia Dyer certainly shone, as did Zawe Ashton. I quite liked Jake Gyllenhaal in this too, even if his character wasn’t easy to love at all. I’ll be dropping by your blog shortly. 😀

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  1. I liked the style and performances but the horror element was really cliche and lazy. I expected better from that director, seems whenever one of those good filmmakers makes something for Netflix we should lower our expectations 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, the trove of horror tropes isn’t what you’d expect from someone who made Nightcrawler! But I do think it’s one of the better entries in the genre. And I admit that I’m a sucker for b-movies and slashers. 😂 Cheers for reading!

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  2. I never really thought of this as a satire before and if it was that element was lost on me when I watched it. I guess I wished that this was more of a dark comedy. You made me see this in a new light and I respect you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the intent for satire was there, perhaps just not as well articulated as it could have been. Then again, horror did seem to be the bigger goal here. I’d say it succeeded for the most part. Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

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