Velvet Buzzsaw, Netflix’s newest original, is a creative supernatural horror film that revolves around Los Angeles’ high-end art scene. The story focuses on an assortment of collectors, artists, wealthy patrons, and art critics as they each try to become as rich and successful as possible. This becomes very apparent when Josephina (Zawe Ashton), a struggling gallery assistant, discovers the brilliant paintings done by her recently deceased neighbor Ventril Dease, and starts to sell them off against his last wishes. Although Josephina and the rest of the greedy, vile characters grow rich off of the paintings, Dease’s spirit eventually has its revenge. Ultimately, Velvet Buzzsaw is about the twisted greed that defines wealthy Americans and what it can do to both the people around them and themselves.
The main character in the film is Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), a snobby art critic that can make or break an artist’s career. Morf is, from the very beginning, a character that audiences are meant to not like, from claiming that “sober is not good” for an artist at an art show to dumping his longtime boyfriend without warning for a girl that doesn’t care at all about him. He immediately gets involved with the Dease paintings, as he recognizes their worth and knows that he could become very wealthy off of writing a book on them. Once the Dease paintings start to kill, however, Morf is one of the only characters to recognize the curse and change is ways in order to avoid dying. By the end of the movie, Morf has evolved as a person and is significantly less hateable than the beginning, but is still not likeable enough that viewers care about if he lives or dies.
The character of Morf, along with the rest of the deliciously horrible characters that populate the movie, clearly represent the morally questionable wealthy Americans that would capitalize on anything in order to make more money. Their ultimate demise clearly conveys the movie’s message concerning how horrible the wealthy can be, but how they will all ultimately meet their match. Velvet Buzzsaw does a fine job of creating characters that are interesting and engaging to the viewer and that are wholly unique in film. The only character in the entire film that a regular viewer will grow to like and care about, however, is the teenage gallery assistant Coco (Natalia Dyer), whose only real purpose in the film is a running gag of her having to constantly change jobs because she finds all of her former bosses dead. By making each character more hateable than the next, Velvet Buzzsaw does miss out on even coming close to a deep, relatable movie, and instead is a traditional slasher horror film where viewers do not really care about who lives or dies.
One of the movie’s most interesting components is how it criticizes and commentates on modern art. Modern art is infamous in society for being very up to interpretation and very full of itself, even though most people can say that it is not unique. Velvet Buzzsaw runs with this idea throughout the narrative, and thus makes LA’s art world accessible to the viewer. One of the best gags in the film is when an art collector sees trash bags on an artist’s floor and starts to compliment him on how great the new piece is. It’s not long before the artist points out that the trash bags are just trash bags and are not a piece if his work. However, the most shocking example from the movie in which the hypocrisy of modern art is pointed out comes with the death of one of the main characters. Their body is found on the floor in the middle of a museum exhibit, but nobody realizes that the body is actually a murder victim and not just a piece of art until a bunch of school children have already played in all of the blood. Narrative commentary like this makes Velvet Buzzsaw a unique film, and it points out issues many have with modern art. In mocking LA’s modern art scene and the people that find deep meaning in trash bags or that think a dead body is a masterpiece, Velvet Buzzsaw becomes relatable to a large audience and feels very relevant. The movie is not condescending like most films that revolve around artwork, and is very self aware about how hypocritical and arrogant modern art actually is.
Technically, Velvet Buzzsaw is very well done. The costume design, especially for the self-absorbed art curator Gretchen, played wonderfully by Toni Collette, and street artist turned high-end painter Damrish (Daveed Diggs), captures the essence of their characters and conveys their self-absorbed and fish-out-of-water personalities, respectively. The visuals, especially when the paintings and other artworks come alive, are also very well done, and pulls in and interests the viewer. One of the most memorable scenes wherein one of the main characters gets turned into street art when paint climbs up their body is incredibly done, and the visual effects convey both the terror of the situation as well as the artwork about to be created. Certain camera angles used are also very creative, like a terrifying shot of one character hanging from the ceiling to the paranoia and suspense conveyed during a phone conversation where two characters discuss the death of another, where the camera cuts to closeups of the two characters very quickly. The movie’s cinematography and visual effects serves to terrify and distress the viewer, which is the purpose of a horror film like Velvet Buzzsaw.
As a whole, I felt like Velvet Buzzsaw was very well done. It is definitely on the higher end of quality for horror films similar to it in storyline, and the characterization and visual effects definitely makes it worth a watch. Of course, there are several flaws within the film, like the fact that every major character is a horrible person that the viewer would be fine to see meet their end, and the movie is prevented by this from the beginning from making a true masterpiece of a film, but it is good enough to watch when you are bored after school one day. Toni Collette’s previous Hereditary and Natalia Dyer’s Stranger Things are both much better in the horror arena, but Velvet Buzzsaw is worth the watch. The vilification and mockery of the uber-wealthy who are greedy enough to profit off of an old man’s death is a message many viewers can relate to. I would definitely recommend this movie to others in some situations, as it is enjoyable enough to spend two hours on.