Velvet Buzzsaw delves into a satiric perception of the art world and its function as a business bridging creativity. A diverse group of characters are united in their undiverse egocentric actions that end up coming back to haunt them, quite literally, as a dead man’s art starts to kill whoever dares to profit off of his stolen pieces. The crossover between bloody classic horror and the hoity-toity world of artists, critics, and gallery-owners from a world not often explored in this way within popular film holds big names, including John Malkovich as the uninspired artist Piers and Jake Gyllenhaal as the uber-opinionated critic Morf Vandewalt. None of the characters are particularly likeable, as needed with a film that explores these types of personalities, with the stand-out role performed by Gyllenhaal. His experience in roles that indulge in the creepy parts of the personality spectrum whilst maintaining that sympathy-inducing portrayal seen before in Nightcrawler (also written and directed by Velvet Buzzsaw’s Dan Gilroy) fit his acting well and suit the role of Morf. Natalie Dyer as the rookie receptionist Coco also has that natural charm which she has thankfully carried over from her character in Stranger Things, and I was happy to watch Zawe Ashton after last seeing her in the comedy TV series Fresh Meat.
My biggest issue from Velvet Buzzsaw was the fact that the origin of the film’s title that is explained in the film seems to be completely irrelevant to the actual plot point. It’s a cool name, but why include shots of the words (in the form of tattoos) and explain what Velvet Buzzsaw actually means when it has no real plot progression or added depth to the story or the hows and whys of the characters sins and punishments. Keep the title, it contributed a small part to the reasons behind why I watched this in the first place, but you can’t have time spent on the meaning behind it when it has no connection, explicit or metaphorical, to the actual story itself.
The fact that Velvet Buzzsaw is actually a horror film is interesting in its fusion with the art world in potentially supernatural ways, but the execution of the horror elements was not as strong as it clearly wanted to be. The eerie music that signaled or exemplified the ‘horror’ parts seemed to be unnecessary at times, even bringing me out of the film when I thought ‘hang on, this scene really didn’t need that music’, not to mention its constant use became completely over done (although my personal taste for film does include a ‘less non-diegetic sound, the better’ ideology). Using sound to indicate the emotion of the scene is, of course, an important part of the audience’s response to the scene at hand, but it actually has to be used when the context of the scene matches that of the sound. When that doesn’t happen, you have Velvet Buzzsaw.
The fusion of horror and the art world as the concept of Velvet Buzzsaw keeps this film from being another repetitively basic film of its genre, and still drawing from ideas of modern society and class to keep it pertinent and open to the audience to understand. There didn’t seem to be a dull moment, whether that be a good or bad thing is up for debate. The concept is great, but the way the actual art is involved with the horror becomes jarring when it falls into that ‘traditional’ box of the genre during the scenes of gore and death, and for myself I usually find it difficult to take that kind of horror seriously unless it’s framed and performed in a way that truly takes any kind of absurdity or unreality (from the fictional situation) out of the scene, making the fake blood and over-the-top screams genuinely terrifying. Although Velvet Buzzsaw includes these elements of art world satire we should laugh at with the scenes of horror, it unfortunately doesn’t sync well overall when the scenes of blood and fear become almost funny, and not in the satirical comedy way that the rest of the film is emanating. The imagination of it all does still stand out and become memorable, and so even though Velvet Buzzsaw misses the mark with the combination route it choose, the film is still fun to watch for its viewpoint and art world caricature that the actors keep potent throughout.