“Something truly god damn strange is going on here!”
Velvet Buzzsaw is a 2019 American satirical supernatural horror film written and directed by Dan Gilroy.
In Miami Beach, art critic Morf Vandewalt attends an art exhibition alongside his friend, Josephina, who works for Rhodora Haze, owner of the Haze Gallery and formerly a member of the rock band Velvet Buzzsaw.
Morf is unfulfilled in his own love life with his boyfriend, Ed, and so starts a sexual relationship with Josephina. Returning to Los Angeles, Josephina finds a dead man named Vetril Dease in her apartment building, and enters his home to discover a myriad of paintings.
Josephina steals the paintings to show to Morf and Rhodora, who become fascinated with Dease; Rhodora decides to exhibit some of the pieces in her gallery. Morf’s art curator friend, Gretchen, and a former artist for the Haze Gallery, Piers, become equally enamored of Dease’s work. The Haze Gallery exhibition of Dease’s paintings is an instant success.
Morf begins researching Dease, discovering that he suffered from a troubled and abusive childhood that resulted in the murder of his father and his growing mental illness that he portrayed in the paintings. Under orders from Rhodora to ensure the rarity of the paintings, gallery worker Bryson transports half of the paintings to storage. While transporting them, out of curiosity, he opens a crate and decides to keep one of the artworks for himself. En route, he accidentally crashes his car when lit cigarette ash disposed on a painting causes severe burns. Retreating to a gas station, Bryson is attacked by a painting of monkeys fixing a car (yes, seriously) and goes missing, as do the artworks.
Jon Dondon, a rival art gallery owner, attempts to tell Dease’s story to the press but is soon murdered when a mysterious hand hangs him by his scarf. Rhodora’s former assistant, Coco, who had just begun working for Jon, discovers his body the next morning. After Jon’s funeral, Morf notices a hand in a Dease painting suddenly move, causing him to be overwhelmed.
Morf and Josephina’s relationship declines due to Gretchen telling Josephina that Morf still cares about Ed, and Gretchen telling Morf that Josephina is having an affair with Rhodora’s latest client, Damrish. Morf also discovers that Dease used blood in his paintings while Gretchen negotiates display of some of Dease’s collection in the city gallery; in exchange, the city gallery will display an interactive piece called Sphere that is owned by Gretchen’s primary client.
After a meeting with gallery owners, Gretchen sticks her right hand in one of the holes in Sphere (a prime feature of the piece that guests would do themselves). When she does so, the piece malfunctions and her arm is severed, resulting in significant blood loss. The next morning, visitors mistake her dead body as part of the artwork and walk past it, before Coco discovers her body and calls the police.
Can the curse of the Dease paintings be stopped? What the hell is even going on anyway?
Velvet Buzzsaw has a very solid concept but it very quickly comes crashing down. After an extremely pretentious – but clearly satirical – opening, I clung on with hope that the dialogue would improve or at the very least there would be some fantastic visuals on offer. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Velvet Buzzsaw has an almost goosebumps-esque vibe. It feels cheap and cheesy, like a TV movie. The effects aren’t good and kills are cut away from right before the money shot.
The characters are all unlikeable. Yes, every single one. I didn’t root for anyone to survive this movie in any capacity – except maybe the cat. Despite that, the actors’ performances were naturally impressive, especially Jake Gyllenhaal because he’s given little to work with. Velvet Buzzsaw definitely doesn’t deserve the cast it has.
I felt the director was more interested in a hidden metaphor than cobbling together a cohesive horror. I found Dease’s character to be glossed over, and the powers his paintings had was ignored. Dease is presented with having an extremely convoluted back story, full of abuse and mental illness, I feel it could have been explained how that carries over to his haunted artwork and how they’re able to influence anything like death in Final Destination.
The biggest crime this film commits, is that it’s boring. It drags on and on with dialogue that will only resonate with artists, and it slows the movie down to almost a halt at points. It’s few humorous moments are not enough to make up for that.
Overall, Velvet Buzzsaw had the concept and cast to be a stellar horror for the ages but it blew it hard and should have spent its huge budget on effects rather than names. If you’re going to maim and murder, I’d love to see the special effects artists go to work, not have it cut away right as it begins to try to earn its place in the horror genre.