April issue 2019
Movie Review: Velvet Buzzsaw
A satirical horror-comedy, Velvet Buzzsaw is a Netflix original that tells a story of the commodification of art. The movie takes place in modern-day Miami Beach, where Josephina, (Zawe Ashton), assistant to L.A. power gallerist Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), unleashes a world of horror when she finds her recently deceased neighbour’s remarkable paintings, and appropriates them in the hope of gaining notoriety for her finds and kickstart her own career.
The paintings steadily garner fame and interest, selling off for larger and larger sums of money, till the true nature of the art shines through – a reflection of the artist’s message. It is when Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) – Josephina’s on-and-off again romantic partner and a renowned art critic whose opinion is as good as a knighthood in the art world – begins to research the paintings and the chilling story of the artist who made them, that carnage ensues.
The movie, as an ode to the art world, excels in its ability to capture the haughty purveyors, the baseless consumerism and the soulless practice of ego-stroking through conflating ownership. While the lavish shots of scenes that resemble intricate tableaux, and the rich colour palette is captivating, the plot becomes somewhat lacklustre. After the second killing, it becomes clear that the formula of a slasher movie – reminiscent of the Final Destination franchise – has been heavily employed, and Velvet Buzzsaw starts to feel as though there are two genres of movies running simultaneously. However, the on-the-nose mockery is also Velvet Buzzsaw’s saving grace, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s brilliantly conveyed cutting wit, and shockingly dark comedic timing.
The inspiration for the movie came from director Dan Gilroy’s own experience with Warner Brothers Studios when it scrapped his 1998 project Superman Lives, which was to be a darker version of the DC comics’ character. He was frustrated when he was told that there was ‘no money for these types of projects,’ and noted that though other movie proposals at the time had very little substance to them, it was the expectation of profit that made studios invest in a project.
The movie works as a stunning visual metaphor for how art is used sometimes only as a tool to gain fame, and not for its own value. Velvet Buzzsaw taps into the most primal human vices – greed, pride, lust and jealousy – utilising staggeringly realistic CGI. It contains strong performances and a succinct ending. Perhaps that is why Velvet Buzzsaw, even with its bawdy scenes and nonsensical surrealism, might warrant a watch.