Velvet Buzzsaw is a well crafted horror film that ruthlessly satirizes the modern art industry. Hollywood stalwart Dan Gilroy reteams with his Nighcrawler leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and wife Rene Russo, to literally eviscerate the moneyed snobs pushing million dollar artwork. The snide, pompous characters revel in their elitism, but face gory retribution for their selfish misdeeds. The plot wanes considerably by the third act, but Velvet Buzzsaw keeps your attention locked throughout.
Velvet Buzzsaw opens at the chic Art Basel exhibition in Miami Beach. We meet a slew of major players in the art world. Jake Gyllenhaal, in skintight designer clothing and a moppet hairdo, stars as influential art critic Morf Vandewalt. He hobnobs with the powerful and cutthroat gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo). She's searching the show for the next breakout artist. Cruelly subjugating her lackey employee, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who arouses a heterosexual lust in the normally homosexual Morf.
Desperate to make amends with her boss, Josephina stumbles upon a trove of incredible paintings in her apartment building. A recently deceased neighbor, the mysterious Ventril Dease, was quite the artist. He clearly left instructions for all of his art to be destroyed upon his death. Josephina takes the paintings to Rhodora, who turns them into art's newest sensation. Soon everyone is clamoring for a Dease painting. But as the value and fame of the pieces skyrocket, horrific tragedies ensue. Morf begins to question who exactly was Ventril Dease.
Dan Gilroy (Two For the Money, The Bourne Legacy) has a gift for writing character exposition and is in true form here. Each cast member is a caricature, but serious in their intent. Morf, prissy and flamboyant, considers himself a refined purveyor of good taste. The always excellent Jake Gyllenhaal is the definition of snooty. He spends the film hilariously looking down his nose at the undesirable masses. Josephina is an astute social climber. Coy at times, but a vixen when it suits her purposes. Rene Russo revels in Rhodora's duplicity. She clawed her way to the top and isn't to be taken lightly. Gilroy's ensemble is richly imagined. It's important to note how important hair, make-up, and costumes are to these characters believability. Morf would be an entirely different animal dressed in sweatpants.
The horror scenes are creative. Dan Gilroy skewers his cast with an artistic flair. The paintings become trippy before the blood starts gushing. He thankfully doesn't go overboard. Velvet Buzzsaw never devolves into torture porn. Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) gives the film a vibrant look. Velvet Buzzsaw makes great use of shadows and light. There are a few shots of Los Angeles that are simply breathtaking. The talent behind the scenes separates Velvet Buzzsaw technically from the low-budget dreck that spoils the genre.
My primary issue with the film is its resolve. The supernatural story is left up in the air. It's almost as if Gilroy didn't think that part of the film needed an explanation. He's so enamored with his characters and lampooning, that the "why" is left unanswered. That's a big mistake that pulls the film down a few notches. Dan Gilroy had the same problem with Roman J. Israel, Esq. There's a lot of build up that doesn't get a worthy climax or resolve. This flaw detracts from the goodwill established with the audience. You can't cheat on the payoff. A horror film especially needs some kind of firm explanation.
Velvet Buzzsaw is another big name title from Netflix streaming service. It will stream globally on Friday, February 1st. Jake Gyllenhaal can do no wrong as an actor. The guy is just great in every performance. Velvet Buzzsaw continues to show his extraordinary range.