“Jesus! What’s the point of art if nobody sees it?” says Josephina, art agent and one of the main characters of the new Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw, perfectly articulating its essence. Written and directed by Nightcrawler’s Dan Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw is a supernatural look into the money-hungry and controversial art elite of Los Angeles. When Josephina (Zawe Ashton) discovers a series of artworks belonging to a dead man named Ventril Dease, she decides to steal them to impress her demanding boss Rhodora (Rene Russo), owner of the prestigious Haze Gallery. When the famous and frenetic art critic Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) is introduced to Dease’s paintings by Rhodora, he is instantly enamoured and begins researching the artist, unleashing a violent force that begins hunting the LA art scene.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a dark and satirical look into the consequences of greed. Despite the hype surrounding it after Gilroy’s previous work, it often fails to capture the depth of the world it portrays and remains as superficial as its characters. Nevertheless, the director’s commitment in giving homage to Dario Argento by conveying dread through scenery shines through, and the film still secures some memorable moments thanks to the quality of its cast. Perhaps this is what really makes Velvet Buzzsaw a successful production: it doesn’t rely on typical horror tricks to scare and impress its viewers; instead, it creates a picture-perfect setting that unsettles in its beauty. Art is powerful because of its ability to unlock our most hidden feelings, and Dease’s art is powerful because it encompasses the fear of the unexpected up until the very end of the film.
Overall, the film succeeds in its attempt to scare while mocking a stereotyped group of unlikable characters, but it doesn’t go all the way, and the final result lacks real substance. Its protagonists, as eccentric and imperfect as they are, lack depth and always feel very far away. Nevertheless, Netflix continues to put out valuable and unique pieces of television, and Velvet Buzzsaw remains a 2019 must see.
By Linda Mohamed