An art world horror-satire, Velvet Buzzsaw may be the first of its kind and for all it’s worth, it’s a decently fun ride. With his new film writer-director Dan Gilroy takes the route of keeping it pretty light. Sure, it’s still a horror film where we see people die in gruesome fashion, but it still never feels like Gilroy has it out for someone. Then again subtextually Velvet Buzzsaw carries some weight, as it displays how the commercialization of art by people who don’t care about art is worthy of a death sentence. Even with that, this film still doesn’t carry itself as a highbrow critique, as it continually plays like a supernatural slasher, while still having something to say.
With his screenplay Gilroy delivers an array of characters, many in purposely archetypical fashion almost in the vein of Robert Altman. And through all those characters Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Morf Vandewalt” is a strong standout. An esteemed art critic, who can make or break an artists career from a single review. From a pure performance perspective Gyllenhaal is magnificent as he delivers a deliciously mean and vile performance. While as well walking the line between Morf’s desperation and desolation perfectly. He’s a pitiful creature, but never comes off like a parody of a critic. If the film completely revolved around Morf it would still be a success, but thankfully Gilroy still delivers a deep bench of characters that are all compellingly performed, all to the service of his vision.
As for that vision Gilroy knows just when to go full horror movie. He never try’s to push the boundary’s to new places as he wants it to be as recognizable as possible. If you know the genre, you’ll know the beats and telegraph them perfectly. And Gilroy knows and uses it to his full advantage to keep the film both funny and wonderfully macabre at the same time. Though it’s through the slasher framework that Gilroy still lays his critique and Velvet Buzzsaw truly comes to life allowing Gilroy to take a little step back and watch it flow. As it steadily streams with its critiques, while not being so serious that it feels like a lecture to the audience.
Though I must say, I do have some fear that people will talk away from Velvet Buzzsaw thinking that the entirety of the film is an indictment of any and all commerce as it relates to art. But this is not an angry screed against those who want to sell art or those who want to even critique it. The anger is very much directed at those who control the art world yet have no love for art. As Velvet Buzzsaw is truly about appreciating and loving art for art’s sake, yet with this film it’s blended with a bitter, often funny, unique genre cocktail.