Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Directed by Dan Gilroy

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Velvet Buzzsaw is a horror/satire that has its eyes set on the world of art dealers.  It’s a ruthless comedy, I suppose, that is clear in its intention, does its thing and then gets out.  Once the movie ends, slightly abruptly, you might be a little befuddled but then it sets in just how narrow the movie’s scope is.  It’s a slasher-style horror movie in which the paintings literally reach out and kill the people who deserve it, in this case people who profit off of a series of paintings left behind by a dead man who wanted them destroyed.

Before the plot really gets going we meet a series of unlikeable people who are at times insecure, selfish, and frustrated.  They are people it turns out we won’t mind seeing get their due, and since just about every character is of this ilk, it makes the entire industry of high art look to be full of egotistical capitalists.  These are people who care little about the art itself and only about its value, which is itself volatile and subjective, at the whim of people who decide what it should be worth (and they are shown to be very easily manipulated).  In one instance a gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) explains that all they’re really selling is perception.

This little world of Velvet Buzzsaw is quite insular and thus quite irritating, at least in certain moments.  The movie is a little slow getting started, with awkward pacing and transitions while we get acquainted with the characters, but once the paintings come alive and start killing people there is a refreshing sense of direction to what had previously been a meandering story.

That subsequent plot-driven story isn’t really anything unique, but it works well enough, I’d say.  It’s just like other slasher movies, in which characters are picked off one by one, almost always much to their own surprise, but with each death the audience is well ahead of them, anticipating their imminent comeuppance.

Such a story is so simple, in fact, that the movie’s climax passed me by without really knowing it.  It’s an effective sequence that cross cuts between three characters, all isolated, as we watch the walls close in, but this moment felt to me a symptom of the conflict and not the supposed resolution.

So then it ends and we move on with our lives.

Velvet Buzzsaw probably won’t stick with you very long.  It’s a one not joke of a movie which I think is quite entertaining, but only in the way an episode of American Horror Story might be entertaining.  You get in, get out, and that’s it.

The movie then ends with a shot of another artist, played by John Malkovich, raking abstract designs into the damp sand on a beach somewhere.  The credits role, and we’re left to think about the pacified beauty of his undertaking as the waves have already begun to erase what he has created.  It is in stark contrast, of course, to what we have seen the two hours previous, a series of vapid characters trying desperately to turn such art into money, preserving it for the sake of consuming it.

Director Dan Gilroy has said that the underlying idea for this film came from his experience working on the script for a Tim Burton Batman movie that was never made.  He spent a year and a half working on the script only to have the studio pull the plug at the last minute.  He sat on the beach, feeling miserable about all that time gone down the drain, but then he took a temperature check and figured that there was value in the experience, even if the script turned out to be no different than art washed away in the sand.

Up Next: The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), The Signal (2014), Harvey (1950)

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