Velvet Buzzsaw: Art attacks in this fun slasher horror satire

Review: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Toni Collette ham it up in this rogues’ gallery

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in Velvet Buzzsaw. Photograph: Netflix

Film Title: Velvet Buzzsaw

Director: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 112 min

Fri, Feb 1, 2019, 05:00


Writer-director Dan Gilroy reunites with his Nightcrawler team Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo for this crowd-pleasing slasher, in which self-serving contemporary art folk are bumped off. The screeching satire here is more than a little broad, even if the juxtaposition between sunniest, swishest Los Angeles and the film’s gothic central premise is often visually interesting.

 Various preening narcissists – too many, in fact – are introduced as part of an over-extended prologue, each one more caricatured and ghastly than the last. Jake Gyllenhaal is preening bisexual Morf Vandewalt, an art critic whose reviews carry enough weight to end careers and galleries. Rene Russo is Rhodora Haze, a former punk rocker turned uber-capitalist gallery owner. Zawe Ashton is Josephina, Rhodora’s receptionist with notions. Tom Sturridge plays Rhodora’s main rival.

Sadly, the film doesn’t give nearly enough space to Toni Collette’s art consultant and John Malkovich’s washed-up artist.

Velvet Buzzsaw Trailer

At least one piece of conceptual art makes for a Giallo-worthy slice-and-dice killing and a darkly hilarious aftermath

When Josephina finds the body of a tenant in her building, and the extensive art collection he painted and assembled over his lifetime, she is captivated by the work – as is Morf, who has recently become her lover, and Rhodora, who promises to turn the paintings into “an eight-figure collection”. That the mysterious artist was called Vetril Dease is, as Rhodora puts it: “The tinsel on the tree”. But long before up-and-coming artist Damrish (Diggs) stares at a Dease and says: “You ever notice anything about this painting? if you look at it long enough, it moves”, it’s clear that Dease’s work is killing those who seek to profit from it – which in this film is everyone.

Between double-crosses that pointedly pitch art against commerce, there are nifty one-liners (“All art is dangerous,” scoffs Rhodora) and old-school video-nasty set-pieces. At least one piece of conceptual art makes for a Giallo-worthy slice-and-dice killing and a darkly hilarious aftermath. As the bodies pile up, they are repeatedly met by a naive young receptionist named Coco (Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer), with a range of reaction shots.

All the actors have bitchy fun, although those who were allergic to Gyllenhaal’s quirky comic turn in Okja may well struggle with his jittery brand of camp here.

Beautifully shot by Robert Elswit and disconcertingly scored by Marco Beltrami, Velvet Buzzsaw is ultimately undone by its own ambition. The backbiting may be fun, but too often it’s a distraction from the high art of murderous masterpieces.