“All art is dangerous.” is an off-hand line in Velvet Buzzsaw. It proves to be all too true.
The story follows foppish master art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he becomes entangled in an art exhibit with side effects worse than Stendhal Syndrome. Josephine (Zawe Ashton) an ambitious agent at an art exhibitor run by former punk icon Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) finds a tenant in her apartment building dead one day. The man, Ventril Dease was a hermit who amassed a massive portfolio of beautifully painted portraits of his own design. After being pushed by Rhodora into claiming the isolated deceased’s collection of work, they plan on exhibiting it at the Los Angeles Museum of Art with much hype. Unwittingly however, they unleash a supernatural force that wreaks bloody mayhem on anyone who dared to profit off these ill-gotten masterpieces…
The movie by Nightcrawler‘s Dan Gilroy reunites some of his stars from the intense sociopathic thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo the leads once again in an impressive ensemble cast that also includes Toni Collette as an art curator and John Malkovich as a formerly alcoholic artist trying to recapture his glory. This ensemble cast sets-up many potential victims and how interwoven the web of lies and deceit within the world of art can be. Though at times it can be easy to lose track of characters and arcs as the spotlight hops around. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Morf was powerful as a man obsessed with finding perfection. Remarking “The critic is God in the art world” and driven to the point of describing his lover’s skin tone like a palette and even criticizing a funeral casket. Russo’s Rhodora likewise comes off as morally grey
At its core, Velvet Buzzsaw is a horror movie, without a doubt. Combined with that however, it is a flesh biting satire of the art world and the corruptive nature of art becoming more about business rather than… art. And the disturbing works of Dease punish those that seek to make a fortune from his accursed portraits. In a sense, the story of Velvet Buzzsaw is a traditional one in the horror genre: cursed treasure. Be it pirate booty or an ancient artifact, we are compelled to seek and utilize these objects in the face of unbelievable danger and death.
Whether to increase our bank accounts or our egos, the risk seems to match the reward. Leading to Dease’s art to set-up some gruesome and memorable kills through. combination of the portraits and environments. My personal favorite involving an exhibit called ‘Sphere’ like an industrial sized version of Phantasm‘s sentinel sphere. Gilroy seems to have a few clever horror homages through the film, (Including one I assume to be to Tales From The Hood) though they could be up to interpretation. Art, after all, is subjective.
While being based on such an esoteric community may turn off some, these same sentiments of art, greed, and desperation can relate to so many different communities and forms of creative expression. If you can, immerse yourself into the world of Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix, February 1st or at one of its limited release screenings.