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"Velvet Buzzsaw" Dan Gilroy

by Katherine Fernandez - Copy Editor
Wed, Feb 20th 2019 03:00 pm

Written and directed by famous screenwriter Dan Gilroy, “Velvet Buzzsaw” pokes fun at millennial social media influencer culture, but takes a twisted turn into the realm of gimmicky horror. The pompous, self-importance that permeates the personalities of most of the characters almost made me turn the movie off within the first 20 minutes. Gilroy certainly drove his point home, making sure the audience was aware the piece was satirical by incorporating scenes that emphasize the commodification of this culture. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the initial setting is Art Basel in Miami, an annual art show that draws in celebrities with the promise of plenty of Instagrammable interactive art installations.

Jake Gyllenhaal is as prolific as ever in his role as Mort Vandewalt, an emotionally tortured art critic with the power to make or break artists. His performance alone is what kept my interest for the majority of the film. Mort was one of the only characters that made you want to root for him even though you knew everyone was probably going to die. 

In the midst of betrayal and backstabbing between art dealers and artists, the death of a haunted, undiscovered old painter brings fame and fortune to struggling gallery assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton). Although the artist Vetril Dease left specific instructions for all of his artwork to be destroyed in the event of his death, Josephina takes hundreds of them from his apartment, too enraptured with them to let them be thrown away. The art world quickly becomes obsessed with Vetril’s work, unaware of their lethal supernatural quality. After stealing some of the paintings, gallery handyman Bryson  (Billy Magnussen) finds himself literally being sucked into a work of art by the chimpanzees it depicts. The only things left of him were his cigarettes and AirPods, the headphones acting as another nod to millennial culture. 

Despite the suspicious death and disappearance, the community uses Jon Dondon’s (Tom Sturridge) funeral as the breeding ground for more catty banter about the color of his casket, sales of art pieces and of course, Vetril’s paintings. 

Mort quickly begins to lose his sanity, seeing the paintings move in the dark, as his love life and career spiral out of control as rapidly and intensely as his mind. As the death toll rises, so does the public interest in the Dease Exhibit, despite Mort desperately urging the Haze Gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), to stop selling Vetril’s paintings before more tragedy comes to pass.

I was expecting much more from this film, especially considering Gilroy’s last film starring Gyllenhaal was nothing less than remarkable. The underlying message behind “Velvet Buzzsaw” was clearly articulated throughout the film and the casting decisions were perfect, but the scares weren’t satisfying and the characters were missing development. I can appreciate the concept and there were some great moments, but the pacing was inconsistent and ultimately left me unsatisfied when the credits started rolling.