“Velvet Buzzsaw” is an excellent satire of the snooty art world, but I didn’t actually realize it was supposed to be a horror movie for an embarrassingly long time. It’s a terrible horror movie, but a pretty decent critique of the rich and ruthless.
The movie has some great characters, starring Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a prominent art critic, the sharlike art dealer Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and Josephina (Zawe Ashton), the ambitious woman who finds a dead man’s artwork.
When Josephina takes all of Dease, the dead artist’s work, which he had ordered to be destroyed, terrible things start to happen to everyone involved with displaying or selling it. The message is pretty obvious: art is not meant to be commercialized or exploited. When all the pretentious art world people trespass into the man’s pain and terrible past, they start getting killed in gruesome ways.
I did like that the pretentious art people were getting killed by the very art they were trying to commercialize, but there was literally no scare factor. I’m terrible with watching horror — I can’t even watch "Killer Mermaid" by myself — but this one was just so bad at being scary. It’s hard to understand why, because it has all the makings of a great horror film, but it just isn’t.
The writers did a great job with the character Rhodora Haze, though. She was really cool and relentless, like a corrupt but admirable great white shark. As a former musician, she understands artists and how unfair art society is, with art available to only the richest, but instead of trying to change this, she exploits it.
I also enjoyed the juxtaposition between Dease's art and the art world. Everyone who sees it talks about how real it is, how raw and vibrant it is and the art really contrasts with how shallow and pretentious the people viewing it are. Only the artists viewing Dease's work get the full impact, suggesting that the art world, with critiques and collectors, just impedes true art.
The movie also seems like a rebuttal of capitalism and the corrupt art world. Dease was a blue collar worker with a dark past. His wishes are denied and the products of his pain and suffering is exploited by upper class art dealers to make themselves even richer.
To further this message, another blue collar artist who is picked up by Rhodora also rejects the art world, deciding that he’d rather go back to his art collective. And a third artist, Piers (John Malkovich) leaves, going to stay at the beach to regain inspiration. Ironically enough, the art world is a major obstacle to true art.
All of the artists must leave the toxic art world culture in order to create. It also seemed like there were a lot of art references in the film, with hints of “The Great Gatsby” in the huge eyes painted on a wall, and "The Picture of Dorian Gray” elements when the paintings come to life.
I really liked the dialogue and artistic style, but I thought it was funny that Gyllenhaal’s character didn’t really stand out. He was good, but the other characters, especially Rhodora, kind of outshone him. Overall, though, the movie had some really interesting criticisms and plot points.
I especially liked the ending, where Piers is happily making art on the beach, oblivious to all the murders and violence. All of the artists in the movie are untouched by the taint of the evil paintings. Even with all of the art world people dead, real art continues to be made.