VELVET BUZZSAW: Art Worth Being Terrified Of!
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Rene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, and John Malkovich
Ever since its trailer dropped, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding Netflix's newest orginal film, Velvet Buzzsaw. Boasting an all star cast (as seen above) and an unexpected spin on the world of art, I was eager to see if the film could deliver.
The answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Like the paintings in this movie, filmmaker Dan Gilroy crafts something in Velvet Buzzsaw that demands to be seen and puzzled over. By writing and directing a film that embraces both classical elements of horror and drama, Gilroy somehow brings a freshness to the genre that makes it impossible for the viewer to look away.
The movie opens with Morf Vandewalt, an art critic played by Gyllenhaal, arriving at an art opening in Miami. As we follow him through the art opening, it is clear that Vandewalt is someone whom both artists and art dealers fear and want adulation from. Knowing this, Vandewalt revels in the attention he gets from others; however, at the same time, being a man who looks for truth and perfection in everyone and everything. This is especially true in the object of his affection, an art gallery assistant named Josephina, played by Ashton.
Despite this fact, Josephina, is still a young woman whose life is coming apart -at least, for the moment. Upon learning that her artist boyfriend is cheating on her and that her once promising future as an art dealer is in danger, fate seems to throw her a lifeline when she finds one of her neighbors dead on the landing of her apartment building and soon stumbles upon something unexpected in his apartment.
Thought to be an unknown artist of little talent, Josephina's neighbor, Vetril Dease, houses scores and scores of his unseen art in his apartment. In looking over his paintings and sketches, she realizes that Dease's art could be the answer to all of her problems - especially since the late Dease has no family and wants his art to be destroyed upon his death. Therefore with the help of her boss, Rhodora Haze, played by Russo, Josephina lights up the Los Angeles art world with Dease's art. However, as this happens, things then start to take a dark turn.
One by one, anyone who has anything to do with preserving or showing Dease's art, soon start falling prey to gruesome deaths - initiating when each victim stares at a Dease art piece, resulting in the art coming to life to kill the offending person. What make this concept so fascinating is that it's executed in such a way that the art portrayed as being sentient: taking revenge on those who have taken it for granted.
While there are a lot of traditional and formulaic elements in this horror movie, such as Rhodora learning that Dease had spent much of his life at a mental hospital or the implied notion that Dease might have killed a co-worker, it actually enhances the story (for me) by giving fans an explanation of how the paintings can do what they do.
In some places, the films seems to draw on the work of artist Bill Stoneham and his most famous painting, The Hands Resist Him - a painting of Stoneham himself as a five-year old boy. Regarded as the most haunted piece of art ever seen, the painting depicts young Stoneham standing before a window with ghostly hands trying to get him. Similar to the concept of this film, the painting seems to have some "strange curse" as three people who'd handled the painting have similarly died under mysterious circumstances.
The film similarly seems to also draw inspiration from Rod Serling's Night Gallery pilot - which featured a pair of stories called The Cemetery and The Escape Route, respectfully, which centered around paintings that seemed to have some sort of mystical quality to them.
However, aside from Gilroy's masterful direction, it is the characters who also help to drive this movie. The most intriguing two being Ashton's Josephina and Gyllenhaal's Vandewalt. Starting out as a nice, semi-innocent person, Josephina, after taking the paintings, becomes far more manipulative and ruthless in her eventual new status as a major art dealer. Even going so far as to sabotage her ex-boyfriend's show.
Vandewalt, in contrast, starts off as a brutal, charismatic and unforgiving critic, soons starts to unravel as he starts to realize "the darkness" surrounding Dease's paintings; more specifically, it cuts through the shallow facade he has created and forces him to reevaluate what he has done and said about others.
Both of them inhabit a world where people are wonderfully shallow to the point that they are parodies of real humans. They go about the art world looking at the work of others as if it's cattle at an auction, even as they fear admitting to themselves that they are hallow and lacking the very beauty and soul in the art that they buy. To them, the art people have created is something to make money of off , to self-aggrandize themselves with and fill the emptiness in themselves. But not something that has deeper value, or even a soul. Josephina, for example, starts out as being innocent and admiring art. But after being hurt and walked on too many times, sees Dease's work as a power that she can use to get what she wants while raining down revenge on those who have hurt her. Toni Collette's art dealer Gretchen, likewise, is a hardened cynic who has turned her back on art itself in favor of making a quick dollar - hustling other people's art, even if it means screwing over lesser known artists.
The only ones without sin in all of this are John Malkovich and Daveed Diggs - both of whom play artists at different points in their careers. While Malkovich is the older artist who feels like the art world has drained him of what he once had, Diggs, in contrast, is a young up-and-comer who wants to make his living as an artist.
Overall, Velvet Buzzsaw is a thoughtful and intelligent movie. Even the cliched parts that seem predictable are worthwhile to see. It's the kind of horror movie fans deserve and won't stop talking about for a while.
Velvet Buzzsaw is now available on Netflix.