Velvet Buzzsaw, Dan Gilroy’s new thriller set in the dog-eat-dog art world, is not mesmeric. Nor is it “bonkers” or a fiendishly clever outing from the always outre filmmaker. It’s not a future cult classic or midnight movie for horror junkies. However, Velvet Buzzsaw is a devilish good time, ripe with cheeky dialogue, cunning puns, and one obvious satire. It’s a slasher film for art buffs of any kind, reveling in the blood of not-so-innocent sell-outs and moral vagrants.
Jake Gyllenhaal is endlessly watchable as an art critic with a taste for men, women, and the sound of his own voice enunciating colorful utterances and observations. He is Morf Vandewalt, and he is everything such a name would imply. Renee Russo is well-cast as Rhodora Haze, a callous art gallery owner chasing the next blockbuster, and Zawe Ashton, as Morf’s former lover and Rhodora’s assistant Josephina, has a face that says “put-upon” until she comes upon a goldmine in a dead man’s apartment: inky, macabre paintings so brilliant they’re immediately primed for the big time of Haze Gallery. Of course, supernatural nonsense ensues. Other notables mill about them and the void of Los Angeles, namely Toni Collette’s art curator and John Malkovich as a formerly abstract artist with a case of cynical malaise. Velvet is more funny than violent or scary, delivering a single shock of gore amid countless moments of irreverent banter. These are people accustomed to pomp, circumstance, and that frilly person next to them eating out of the palm of their hand. Their snooty jargon never ceases to amaze, or delight, although a series of dull love affairs serve as mere distraction from the fun we could be having. Like a rich puddle of thick paint inching for a victim, a bloody rainbow coming for the damned; there are images so vivid and so unique you wish they weren’t so rare.
Unlike Serenity, a film that goes way too far in indulging the director’s wacky vision, Gilroy doesn’t go far enough. Gilroy is at once pretentious killer and killer of pretension, simultaneously looking down the nose at those who sell out art for money and chafing at the very idea of critique as worthwhile endeavor. “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining,” Morf states matter-of-factly. I agree with the former. Velvet Buzzsaw is limited to one-note satire, but my oh my, isn’t it fun watching a gaggle of sycophants get poisoned by their own sins?
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