Velvet buzzsaw: Netflix’s newest run-of-the-mill slasher

Virginia gray ‘20


I will admit my heart leaped when I saw Netflix's ad for Velvet Buzzsaw, a February-release original that appeared to be a gritty, gorey, satirical look into the corrupt world of high art. Bird Box proved entertaining but predictable, Bandersnatch proved innovative but bland, yet nevertheless I invested high hopes in Netflix’s newly promised horror success.

Velvet Buzzsaw aims to reveal the superficiality and greed of those committed to the world of high art. The film begins with Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), a chi-chi, pretentious, and glamorously successful art critique living in Miami Beach. Morf’s career is fueled by his ruthless critiques — when he does actually approve of a piece, it is always coincidentally featured on the walls of his friend Rhodora Haze’s (Rene Russo) renowned museum.

Goya’s  Saturn Devouring His Son  (1823)

Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (1823)

When Morf’s ambitious and equally-pretentious friend, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), finds piles and piles of stunning, terrifying paintings in her recently-deceased neighbor’s apartment, Josephina steals them and takes them to Morf to be sold.

Morf, impressed and moved by the art, shows the pieces to Rhodora, who quickly installs them for her gallery. The mysterious, dark paintings are a huge success.

Soon after the paintings gain attention, though, strange, violent accidents start occurring to those associated with the art — a driver transporting the pieces wrecks his car and dies in the resulting fire, a rival gallery-owner dies violently while interacting with a sculpture in Rhodora’s museum. Morf suspects a pattern — those benefiting from the exploitation of the deceased-artist’s work are dying. And he thinks the paintings are coming alive and killing them.

The trailer was exciting, boasting an all-star cast featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs, and Toni Collette. The glimpse of the movie promised a satirical flare of flamboyance and luxury, coupled with old-school slasher violence.

Though somewhat entertaining, Velvet Buzzsaw fell short of expectations, collapsing in a cloud of underwhelming, flat, and predictable debris. It fulfilled its promise of extravagance and gore, but fell short on developing any sort of enticing plot. The characters were all the same — selfish, greedy, superficial, narcissistic. The movie spent an hour and fifty-two minutes proving a point that was basically proven in the two minute trailer; what could have been achieved with one character was instead drawn out and overdone with five.

This is not to say the movie held no merit, as it was exciting at some key points — the suspense leading up to particularly gorey scenes was always chilling. However, any movie can be scary, and Velvet Buzzsaw contributed nothing new to the horror genre nor any new input on “high society” or “high art.”

If you’re looking for something mildly scary to entertain your Saturday night, I wouldn’t say Velvet Buzzsaw is at all a bad choice. But if you’re looking for an original, horror-driven satirical commentary on an essential piece of society, Velvet Buzzsaw is not the movie for you.