Review: “Velvet Buzzsaw”

Quinn Soltesz, Features/Entertainment Editor

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When I first saw the trailer for this movie on one of my many visits to the entertainment obsessed corners of Twitter, I was thoroughly intrigued, if not a bit scared. The movie advertised itself as a thrilling slasher film complemented by a rich satirical angle. When I saw that the movie was released at the Sundance Film Festival, I grew even more intrigued. Could this film be the next Sorry to Bother You (a spectacularly disturbing social commentary that was absolutely SNUBBED this award season)? Or, would this film help me to get over my irrational fear of good horror films?

Alas, Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Dan Gilroy and released by Netflix in January 2019, would become neither. Instead, it would become simply the most entertaining, if not objectively good, movie I’ve seen so far this year.

Buzzsaw starts off wonderfully. A visually and audibly rich, almost montage-like, setup of the main characters takes place at a Miami fine art convention. There is Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), a ruthless art critic and active wearer of glasses. Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), gallery owner and Miranda Priestly wannabe. Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an unsatisfied assistant to Haze and friend of Vandewalt. And finally Gretchen (Toni Collette), an ambitious curator with a killer haircut. All four of these characters, as well as the cast writ large, are played masterfully by their respective actors. Gyllenhaal’s performance in particular reminded me of the ever present question: “Where is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Oscar?”

As for plot, the movie (after the strong start!) is messy at best. Here is a summary: Josephina stumbles across some dead guy’s paintings and tries to sell them to advance her standing in the art world. Rhodora and Morf and Gretchen hear about it and try to cut themselves a slice of the profit on this old dude’s art. The art begins to fight back in murderous ways and somehow makes all art violent. Everyone dies. This sounds like the classic setup for a horror film, but for being horror, the pacing was awful. I second-screened virtually all throughout the middle, and only turned off my phone when Gretchen got her arm sawed off by an interactive metal orb. If you are going to watch the movie for anything, watch it for her funeral scene.

The satire of Buzzsaw struggled along with the plot. While it is apparent what Gilroy is trying to say about the intersection of art and capitalism, it is at times painful to watch. I found it particularly difficult to watch the bits where the art was literally killing people who had tried to profit off of it. Better commentary could have been achieved by not giving the old man and his paintings a backstory, and instead just letting the various characters of the art world get more and more involved in selling people’s live’s work until they have compromised their sanity to a point that is deserving. But I don’t write movies, do I.

Despite all of these clear flaws, this movie is still a lowkey favorite of mine. This is probably because I have no taste and will fall for anything that is visually dazzling or trying to be edgy, but maybe it is because Velvet Buzzsaw had all of the aspects of a truly great movie. The only problem was that it couldn’t seem to put them together.

Rating: ★★★★

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