Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy, 2019) – Art is dangerous, more so for those who sell it for greed.
Effective satire elevates the potentially campy slasher Velvet Buzzsaw to an incisive, layered work of art.
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.
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.
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.”