Mario’s Movies: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

By Mario Ricciardi

There are two categories in life that I find difficult to look away from: the excessively beautiful and the excessively gruesome. The new Netflix Original “Velvet Buzzsaw” features both. Apart from Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, not being able to look away is the only reason I kept watching. With a plot that frequently falls short of its potential, the story about the world of elite art critics invites more camp than craft.

The film reunites “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy with Gyllenhaal. Although marketed as the main character, Gyllenhaal’s character, Morf Vandewalt, serves no more of a supporting role than the entire cast of supporting roles. The film’s main character? The pretentious, highly competitive, highly profitable art world.

A guilty pleasure art critic parody full of Dickensian names and elaborate attitudes, it takes its time to turn into the violent old school horror movie the trailers promise.

Once the aspiring art curator, Josephina, discovers the body of dead painter, Ventril Dease, in her apartment building, the film I had originally sat down for begins to take place. Josephina steals Dease’s work and delivers them to her boss, Rhodora Haze. The work turns out to be a big hit. People love it, people are paying top dollar for it, but most relevantly, people are dying for it.

We soon discover that Dease used bodily tissues and fluids to create his works and that his paintings are possessed by evil spirits. Dease’s last wishes were in fact to have all his art burned. Unfortunately, these art critics prioritize their own narrow self-interests over wishes of the deceased.

Just about every character in the film ends up paying for their insolence, and since everyone is so unlikeable, it doesn’t feel as senseless as it actually is. Side thought, am I considered an art critic? Maybe I should be reevaluating myself too. Not a single person in the film is likable. That said, their lack of appeal is why the film hits the final notes it goes after.

Gyllenhaal is a genius in the film. So much so that he earned a penguin in my review all by himself. The comedy is funny and the horror feels almost justified. The film has plenty to look at, but as a whole never transcends the art displayed in the film. Pieces of which, are a satirically good statement on today’s modern art.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” juxtaposes beautiful artwork with gruesome deaths. The film mirrors the vibrance of cities like Miami and Los Angeles with the pulpy darkness of a seedy, double-crossing art world.

The film displays moments of hedonistic pleasure with hedonistic pain. With all of the contrast, the film ultimately cannot surface a message worth telling. The film clearly sets out to be a piece of art worthy of the scene it represents, but unfortunately it is not much more than a campy, quirky, empty horror flick.

?? (2/5 Penguins)

And remember, one of those is Jake’s.