Horror movie/art world satire VELVET BUZZSAW (2019, caught on Netflix) works far better as satire than a horror film, but the result is a lot of fun in no small part due to solid performances from a terrific cast.
The film initially introduces us to art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal delivering a unique blend of earnest and smarmy), who at an art convention starts an affair with Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an employee of Rhodora Haze (Renee Russo, rocking it), owner of the lucrative Haze Gallery and formerly a member of a rock band called Velvet Buzzsaw.
When an old man in Josephina’s building dies, she discovers a treasure trove of paintings in his apartment that are disturbingly visceral. Knowing they are bound for the trash, she takes them and cuts a deal with Rhodora to sell them to her rich clients. But the paintings are haunted, and don’t want to be sold, resulting in a trail of death.
The deaths themselves are predictable and not very interesting, though there are some superbly comical elements to it, such as people visiting a museum mistaking a blood-soaked corpse as being part of the exhibit and admiring it. Where VELVET BUZZSAW shines is in its satire of the high-brow art world. The ensemble collection of characters, all played by solid actors from Gyllenhaal and Russo to John Malkovich, are all bullshitting, backstabbing, manipulative, ruthless, and greedy, so there’s a comeuppance aspect to their deaths. The esoteric art dialogue is spot on for the kinds of things you hear in that world, as is the industry insider machinery engaged in building brand and value into artists and art.
Unfortunately, while the satire shines and the characters make the movie a lot of fun, as a horror film, VELVET BUZZSAW is weak and predictable, and even though the characters die “artistically,” let’s say, the two elements of the film never really mesh to its rich potential. An example of a missed opportunity is the paintings exact misery on their owners individually, while I kept hoping for a wholesale massacre at a museum exhibit, which would have made for an amazing climax.
Overall, VELVET BUZZSAW is fun and quirky, and I enjoyed it, though as a horror movie it could have been so much more.