At face value, the idea of a satirical horror comedy based within the modern art community sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, writer and director Dan Gilroy has crafted an entertaining film that embraces its comedic horror elements and delivers both laughs and jump-scares.
Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Mort Vendewalt, a pretentious and arrogant art critic who harshly critiques anything and everything related to the world of art. Whether it is the artistic works, the artists, the dealers, or even the patrons, nothing is safe from Mort’s scathing criticisms. Coincidentally, Mort’s new love interest, Josephina, stumbles across a large cache of undiscovered art left behind by a dead neighbor. Despite the deceased’s request that his art be destroyed upon his death, Josephina takes the art for herself and sells the collection through her art dealer employer, portrayed by Rene Russo. It’s at this point in the film that horror elements kick in, and anyone involved in the monetization and distribution of the dead man’s art begins to experience strange and violent phenomena, often resulting in grisly deaths.
While the idea of a haunted item is a classic horror movie element, the choice to base this story within the contemporary art world was a bold and fresh idea. This setting allowed for an interesting mix of stylistic choices with lighting and camera angles, as if the images on the screen were art exhibits themselves alongside the ones within the movie. However, the most surprising thing about Velvet Buzzsaw is the cast of characters and just how atrocious and insufferable they are.
As the viewer, we commonly root for the protagonist and follow along as their story unfolds. This usually creates a bond with the character, and when that character is placed in dire circumstances, the viewer generally wants the hero to prevail. This isn’t the case with the characters in Velvet Buzzsaw; each one of the main characters is greedy, selfish, and conniving. Each person has an agenda, even though they proclaim to have some form of ethics or moral code, and this gives the characters the latitude to act pompous and judgmental to each other and to others in the art community.
It’s this absence of relatable characters that creates the most entertaining parts of the movie, in which the vengeful spirit of the deceased artist causes harm to these people. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of some of the scenes. For example, one moment features a painting of monkeys which come to life to attack a douche-bag delivery driver. Another features a conceited art dealer who has her arm severed by a sculpture, causing her to bleed to death in front of the piece. This scene had me laughing out loud at the irony of the scene, since her mutilated body is considered by the public to be a part of the exhibit and not even realizing that they are gazing at the corpse of a woman.
And this is where Velvet Buzzsaw shines; in its macabre sense of humor. This movie juggles between horror and comedy fluidly, causing one to question their own personal sense of humor. It allows viewers to examine their own criticisms and prejudices towards entertainment and its relation to how we view each other. It satirizes our ability to place greater value on objects and other people’s opinions, as opposed to valuing each other as humans and how we should treat each other. This is where the genius of the movie lies, and it is not hyperbole when I say that Velvet Buzzsaw is the next big cult classic for this generation. Though not perfect, it revels in its absurdity and is all the better for it.
Verdict – 4 /5 – A horror comedy in the vein of Evil Dead that is worth several repeated viewings.