A horror-satire hybrid, Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Dan Gilroy, follows several characters from the pretentious art world of Los Angeles, who all have one thing in common: they sought to profit off of a deceased artist’s paintings, which the artist didn’t want commercialized. The film explores themes about the dangers of compromising the integrity of art for profit, accompanied by farcical overtones about the world of art and elements of horror. Unfortunately, none of these aspects quite hit their mark, resulting in a shallow, yet amusing film about how the art world is shallow, yet amusing.
The movie shows potential right off the bat, introducing interesting characters, each with his/her own complex facade. In fact, the characters are arguably the best part of the film, specifically Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cold and calculating art critic at the top of his game. Gyllenhaal plays the character with ludicrous passion, which is a perfect approach to the role.
However, as the film progresses, it starts to lose the audience’s attention. This begins just following the inciting incident, when Josefina (Zawe Ashton), an ambitious assistant to an art dealer, discovers hundreds of paintings in the room of a deceased artist. Unfortunately for her, it was the artist’s will that all his work be destroyed upon his death, and when Josefina and other members of the art business start profiting off his work, the art enacts its revenge. The entire concept is extremely unique, which is a huge plus in this day and age where sequels and remakes seem to vastly outnumber original content. Aside from its enticing start, the film’s ideas are executed poorly. The horror scenes are few and far between, and—I hate to say it—but lacking in horror. Luckily, these scenes are always quite creative, often involving artwork coming to life and dispatching characters in drastically different ways each time.
The satire and social commentary play an interesting role in the movie as well, constantly mocking the art enthusiasts’ views and attitudes. In one such instance, an art dealer sees a pile of trash in an artist’s studio and compliments him on his fabulous work; the artist responds simply by saying it’s not art. Moments like these are common in the film—often to an unrealistic degree—but this is excusable considering the film’s satirical nature. Although the movie seems like it should contain more profound or hard-hitting meanings, the story doesn’t explore the main point beyond the somewhat superficial idea that “greed is bad.” Much like many other aspects of the film, the main idea begins with intrigue and promise, but in the end barely scratches the surface of what it could’ve been. On top of this, the filmmakers have a difficult time finding a common ground between the two genres, making both of them seem out of place when pictured alongside one another. In the end, the most bothersome part of the film is not its trivial messaging, disorienting genre-mixing, or even its lack of truly frightening moments; though truly original in its conceptual origins, Velvet Buzzsaw suffers from a vexing condition of wasted potential.