Main cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (Morf Vandewalt), Rene Russo (Rhodora Haze), Toni Collette (Gretchen), Zawe Ashton (Josephina), Tom Sturridge (Jon Dondon), Natalia Dyer (Coco), Daveed Diggs (Damrish), Billy Magnussen (Bryson), John Malkovich (Piers), and Alan Mandell (Vetril Dease)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Oh boy, Jake Gyllenhaal looks like a lesbian in her late forties here. Am I allowed to say that? He shows a generous amount of skin and even a lingering rear end shot at one moment, but that haircut, those spectacles, and the poor man looking like he’s aging hard, Clay Aiken-style… let’s just say that for this once, it’s not rude to keep one’s eyes down there and not up.
Mr Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, the hottest art critic in town, and Morf is exactly what you’d imagine him to be: pretentious and prone to babbling pretty words that ultimately mean nothing. He lives like a stereotypical wealthy white WeHo homo with his boyfriend Ed, but he’s since long become bored of that man. He soon begins an affair with Josephina, a neurotic employee working at Haze Gallery, which belongs to Morf’s good friend Rhodora Haze. The title of this movie comes from the name of the punk band Rhodora used to belong to during her younger days, because this movie is so deep like that. There are many axillary characters here, way too many as most of them serve little purpose in the movie other than to be obnoxious and then die, but these are the main players.
The whole thing really begins when Josephina finds a reclusive neighbor, Vetril Dease, dead. She learns that he has left behind a large body of artwork that would soon be destroyed anyway, as the man had no surviving kin, so she grabs them to her place and becomes fascinated by them. Rhodora finds out and strong arms her way into getting those artwork displayed at her gallery. Morf too becomes fascinated by the dead man’s art, and the more he learns about Dease’s very troubled past, the more he becomes fascinated-disturbed by the whole thing. Meanwhile, people associated with the efforts to display Dease’s artwork or share his story to the public begin to die off one by one, literally dying in the name of art.
Velvet Buzzsaw is marketed as a horror flick, but it’s actually more of a satire of the pretentious wankery of the art world, with the running joke being that art critics and gallery owners often can’t tell the difference between a pile of dung on the floor and profound artistry. Dan Gilroy’s script is dripping with so much disdain, especially for Morf, that I can practically taste the vicarious delight Mr Gilroy surely experiences as he stabs his middle finger repeatedly at all those “art critics” that had ever rubbished his works. Every character here is a stereotype of sorts, from the wanker critic to ruthless gallery owner to the failed artist, and the cast puts on a solid performance to make the dark comedic and satirical elements of this movie work very well. Zawe Ashton’s often inappropriate and hence hilarious deadpan, dead-inside portrayal of her character is especially a favorite of mine here.
In fact, I wonder whether the fact that this movie taking its time to go anywhere is in itself some kind of middle finger to the pretentiousness of the arty-farty types. Not that this movie has dreadful pacing, mind you. The slow pace feels deliberate, as part of the effort to build up tension and drive the viewer’s rear end to creep slowly to the edge of the seat before wham, the pay-off. This is why the horror elements work very well too. The CGI is of debatable quality, but the slow build of tension and terror is impressive, especially when this movie doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares and loud noises to do the trick. The cinematography and lighting as well as the set, on the other hand, are all gorgeous.
In the end, nothing is really resolved and there are no answers. Given the subject matter that is being skewered here, though, perhaps that too is deliberate. It doesn’t matter. I find this movie very engrossing and fascinating at the same time, to the point that I don’t mind the open-ended nature of the whole thing.
Velvet Buzzsaw is not a film for everyone, as it is not a conventional horror movie despite being marketed as one. Me, I like it, even if I had to spend almost two hours looking at Mr Gyllenhaal’s unfortunate haircut.