by Daniel O’Connell
Writer-Director Dan Gilroy got his start in the business by writing scripts, most notably for films such as The Fall, Real Steel, and The Bourne Legacy. He then made his directorial debut in 2014 with Nightcrawler, a thriller that serves as a critique of late night news. The film was a blend of Network and American Psycho and received acclaim from both critics and audiences alike. After directing the legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq., Gilroy returns to his directing roots with Velvet Buzzsaw, a film focusing on the world of art. With this work, Gilroy delivers a stylish, terrifying film.
A great cast of terrible characters
The film focuses on the art scene of Miami Beach, specifically at a gallery owned by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), a former member of the punk rock band Velvet Buzzsaw. A frequent visitor to the gallery is the icy, pessimistic, and art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal). The latest buzz around the scene are the paintings
of Ventril Dease, a recently deceased, reclusive artist, whose work is discovered by Morf’s agent, Josephina (Zawe Ashton). Everyone from gallery owners to curators are enamored with the paintings, with some trying to make money off of the paintings and their deceased painter. However, the paintings are in fact cursed, targeting and killing anyone who tries to make a profit off of them. One by one, people who try to use the paintings for their own greed are killed off as Morf begins tries to unravel the curse.
One of the strengths of the film is its ensemble cast, the most notable standout being Gyllenhaal as Morf. He does a great job at capturing the pretentiousness and hypercritical nature of a vain, snobbish art critic. As the film goes on, Morf’s mental state deteriorates, and Gyllenhaal does a great job at portraying the panic and bewilderment he goes through. The rest of the cast does a good job as well, whether its Toni Collette’s Gretchen, a self-serving and self-interested curator who meddles with her colleagues personal lives, to John Malkovich’s Piers, a dry and dour former artist who worked for Haze’s gallery.
However, almost the entire cast is full of horrible people, serving as the movie’s way to critique the art scene. They’re vapid, shallow, and only want to use art to benefit themselves. For example. Josephina is more concerned about how the exhibit on Ventril Dease is trending on Instagram at a point where several people have died. It’s a part of the film’s message that art should be appreciated for its own sake, rather than used for monetary gain. And this message is delivered with the subtly of a bullet train. This message is fine in itself, but the movie doesn’t find a nice middle ground between people who appreciate art and people who sell it for money.
Brilliant deaths and surreal horror
While the first part of the film starts as a satire, the latter turns into a horror film once Ventril Dease’s paintings are introduced. The film’s horror is a blend of psychological and, surprisingly enough, slasher. A notable scene is where Morf visits a sound art exhibit reserved to him, only to be bombarded by voices coming from the sound speakers (which include his own) which throw all of his critiques back at him. It’s only then revealed that the voices he heard aren’t a part of the exhibit. The sudden surprise of the scene, as well as Gyllenhaal’s acting, add to the overall creepiness.
The movie’s main highlight are its death scenes, where people are killed by a supernatural force, similar to the Final Destination movies. However, Velvet Buzzsaw trades the Rube Goldberg-esque death traps for killings involving art pieces. The first of these involves Bryson, a gallery worker, who is killed when a painting of monkeys working on a car drags him into it. And these death scenes continue to escalate from there. One of the highlights is Gretchen’s death, where she sticks her arm into a piece called the Sphere. She then has her arm violently cut off and is left to bleed out overnight. The kicker is that her dead body in a pool of blood is initially assumed to be just a part of the exhibit.
The fact that the latter half of the movie is a slasher film contextualizes the horrible characters. It makes it cathartic to watch the shallow and pretentious snobs pay for their own greed in unique ways. The deaths themselves make the film worth the watch.
Featured Image: IMDb
‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ follows in the footsteps of Gilroy’s 'Nightcrawler' by being a critique. It may fall short of the aforementioned film, but it is still a unique horror film that stands out from its competition. While the film’s message falls flat, it makes up for it by the performances of the cast and the fascinating death scenes. The film is worth the time of any horror fan or artist.
Daniel is a Journalism major and a History minor. Daniel’s hobbies include playing video games, watching movies, writing short stories and fan fiction, and listening to music. He hopes to use his work at Byte as a stepping stone for his journalism career.