I wasn’t all that interested in Velvet Buzzsaw when it was first recommended to me by Netflix but I when I watched the full trailer, I was 100 percent sold on this horror comedy centering around the art world. While I am completely ignorant about art, I do appreciate the high caliber performances of the cast in this well paced, well executed the film. No wonder it did well when it opened at the Sundance Film Festival.
Synopsis: Washed out artist turned gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is always on the lookout for the next big thing in the art world to make her mark in the industry again. One of her assistants, the ambitious Josephina (Zawe Ashton), hands her the very opportunity when she steals the art of her dead neighbor who harbors a terrifying secret about his work. Art critic Morf Vanderwalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also looking for a breakout artist that will end his boredom about covering the same old type of art and finds it in Josephina’s discovery. He unbeknowingly becomes a pawn in Rhodora and Josephine’s bid to jack up the price of art collection.
I don’t believe it is possible to hate a character as much as I hate Josephina. This ambitious and unprofessional tool of a woman is an opportunist, a user, a liar, a whore, a thief and at no point in the film did I feel any sympathy for any misfortune she may have come across. I felt, even, that she got off fairly easy after setting off the death and destruction that her dead neighbor’s art has caused. She pressured Morf into writing a bad review about her ex, she “failed” to inform her employer of the dead neighbor’s final wish about his artwork and neglected to do research about the fricking artist before stealing his art and profiting off it. Worse, the first moment that she felt a tiny bit of success, she put on airs and became a world class bitch. Yup, I was completely dissatisfied over her conclusion and felt like she deserved a far, far more disastrous fate.
Rhodora was another character that audiences will love to hate but she’s basically being a sharp businesswoman — practical, greedy, uncaring. Fairly typical in the cutthroat art world that the film projects. To her credit, she really does know what she is doing after all her years of experience in the industry so I could not judge her too harshly for her decisions.
I felt really bad about Morf though, because despite his fastidiousness and his tactlessness, he does take pride in his work and he does so quite diligently. Of course it was natural for him to want to bask in the glory of discovering a posthumous talent in Vetril Dease because of his arrogance and standing in the art world. But in doing his research and discovering more information about the artist, he was not wont in confronting Rhodora, taking action and warning the world about the dangers of the paintings. This, at the cost of his reputation, was laudable, especially for a man of his stature in the industry. He was the only real person in this hodgepodge of over the top characters and I loved him for it. Jake Gyllenhaal did a marvelous job at making Morf the central character of this piece and he deserved the spotlight.
Knowing nothing about how the art world operates, except for the occasional mention on the shows I watch, I now get a sense about how difficult it is to make it big in the art world without connections and even with a load of talent. Even now, those who are featured in galleries are only what these art experts have filtered and sifted through in their dealings and how it even got there in the first place is a battle in itself. The betrayal, the drama, the ruthlessness are just some of what comprises the backdrop of this film by Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy. Its like fashion, but worse because there’s a lot of things people would do with millions of dollars involved.
Structure wise, I loved the steadily escalating sense of suspense as more and more details are revealed about the elusive Dease. There’s a sense of thrill with the use of Hitchcock inspired scoring while the sphere scene with Gretchen seemed like it was taken from a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey or The Clockwork Orange. The splatter of blood in the center of the pristine white background was an excellent touch. There was also a Twilight Zone feel in some of the deaths which I appreciated.
While I would have wanted the deaths to become parallel to the paintings being featured, I did like the foreshadowing established to give a clue on the characters’ deaths. It was quite well done. Personally though, I would have wanted to see more of Dease’s paintings and in a more chronological sequence to depict the horrors that he has done . Perhaps, the team thought that less was more, which also kind of works too.
Another thing — kudos that the film did not rely on overly graphic death scenes but delivered on the scares in a slightly more sophisticated, yet effective way.
All in all, I very much liked Velvet Buzzsaw and thought the ending was an excellent touch to imply a continued horror and also close the chapter for this set of characters who were so blinded by ego that they failed to see the big picture (pun intended). Great performances by the cast across the board. An engaging film about a topic that not all people are familiar about — art and possibly serial killers who live next door. Chills.