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Velvet Buzzsaw

February 2, 2019

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton

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Synopsis: The denizens of LA’s modern art scene get sucked into the gothic allure of a set of paintings from a recently deceased old man.

Review: This goofy horror-comedy hybrid really isn’t meant to be taken too much at face value as any sort of rigorous exposé of the pretensions of the modern art scene. Early negative reviews of the film seem to have taken issue with this two-dimensionality and Dan Gilroy’s fondness for caricature, but isn’t that precisely the point? It’s no more and no less than a lurid and tongue-in-cheek joyride about unwholesome art industry leeches getting their comeuppance through a classically hokum horror conceit (and there is sly thematic resonance in which characters are targeted by the hex, and how).

Taken on those terms, it’s a perfectly enjoyable couple of hours of pulpy fun. Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the ridiculously effete art critic is a particular joy. Some of his pithy one-liners are destined to be GIFs for years to come, and while I found his attempts at comedy in Okja slightly gauche, here it’s bang on. His character’s breakup scene with Zawe Ashton’s Josephina is especially good; particularly the way that Daveed Digg’s ‘third person’ in the relationship just casually applies salt to his breakfast while watching the couple’s absurd, unravelling argument.

Merging satire and horror is a difficult trick, and, ultimately, Velvet Buzzsaw might have been more rewarding had it gone all in on the comedy angle, or, perhaps more interestingly, if it had honoured the darker, psychological horror inflections of its scenario. Still, it’s a diverting little mish-mash, and the weird blend of darkness and throwaway silliness does have some rewards: namely in the scene where Tom Sturridge’s South African snob of an art dealer mistakes a pile of rubbish for conceptual art (an easy target, but a prevalent point), and in the minor character of midwestern naïf Coco, whose main job seems to revolve around interning for all these characters in succession and being the one to discover their gruesome dead bodies while coming in with the morning Starbucks round! (February 2018)

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