Killer Art (Film Review: “Velvet Buzzsaw”)


A malevolently delightful satire of the slick world of modern art that steers headlong into popcorn horror . . . an uneven but visually and thematically sumptuous ride that’s anything but mundane.

SnapShot Plot 

The seductive first half of Velvet Buzzsaw begins with the hustle surrounding the famed Art Basel fair in Miami after which point the movie settles in to skewer the vapid culture of the downtown LA Modern Art world. Replete with poseurs and fringe types – whose ridiculous names speak volumes about their utter soullessness – these gallery people, museum curators, buyers’ reps, media outlets and the artists themselves form a swarming hive of humanity desperate to convince themselves and the public that they’ve found the Next Big Thing in Art. At the center of the action is impresario art critic, Morf Vandewalt, whose performance by Jake Gyllenhaal is nothing short of exhilarating.

Morf seems to float languorously through the art scene, dressed in androgynous hipster fussiness and sending out a weird vibe of homo/hetero sexuality with a confidant cynicism that belies a surprising sincerity at the core of his personality. In a moment of inner angst, he becomes sexually entangled with sad, ambitious Josephina, the bitter protege of powerhouse gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (in a take-no-prisoners role for Rene Russo). When Josephina discovers the dead body of an elderly, shut-in neighbor from her building, her snooping curiosity propels her to rummage through his decrepit apartment crammed to the ceiling with paintings. As creepy as his work is, she immediately recognizes the astounding vision inherent in his dark material. Josephina takes it upon herself to ride this dead artist’s coat tails on to personal wealth and fame, and in so doing she triggers a supernatural game of dominoes in which every person who attempts to profit from or commoditize the collection meets an untimely and ghastly ending.



Parting Shot

Writer/Director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) has once again teamed Jake Gyllenhaal with Rene Russo, joined here by a pitch perfect ensemble including John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things). Earlier I mentioned the first half of Velvet Buzzsaw as seductive, and indeed the movie would have stood on its own perfectly well as simply a satire of the intersection of Art with Commerce. I found the costumes, the posing and the visual set pieces formidable and mesmerizing. But Gilroy opted to go a step further and create something ghoulishly comic, by virtue of the classic horror tropes he relied on to convey the morality tale inherent in the story. The deaths themselves (by virtue of the art ‘coming alive’) as well as the dead artist’s back story are the stuff of movie legend, deliberately and purposefully re-tread. What Gilroy has carved out in Velvet Buzzsaw may actually be a sub-genre the likes of which we may never see again, or what I’m calling  Art Satire/Revenge Horror/Black Comedy/Supernatural Thriller. Seems much? I don’t know, maybe the next time you find yourself in some avant garde gallery surrounded by vapid types trying too hard to impress themselves and each other, you may wish that one of the paintings would reach out and show everybody the real meaning of Art.

Velvet Buzzsaw is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer:

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