Art finds life in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

Written By Amanda Myers, Co-Features Editor

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An artist’s intent is a very powerful thing. Critics judge the work and the creator justifies its existence. So, what happens when an artist’s work develops a life of its own and overtakes their vision? 

“Velvet Buzzsaw” ponders that question with strokes that reflect the maniacal consumerism and shallowness of not only the art world, but its inner circle, too. Director Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler,” “Kong: Skull Island”) immerses himself in the pyramid scheme of the Miami Beach art scene in the hopes of either speaking to the sarcasm within art lovers and archivists everywhere, or send them scrolling to the next available film on Netflix.

The film zeroes in on the work of a particular artist whose work is a fascinating enigma to the collective society. His paintings are discovered by a burgeoning young agent named Josephina (Zawe Ashton) after she finds him dead in the hallway of her apartment building. His room is a goldmine of dark realistic imagery that is both unsettling and intriguing. As his work turns into a phenomenon, more people are able to see it and are thus taken in and trapped by its lure.

This art meets horror thriller succeeds when analyzing the character’s actions rather than the specific reactions to the terrifying events that unravel throughout the film. It’s not as psychological or gritty as “Nightcrawler,” but getting the same leads to star speaks to Gilroy’s power of persuasion.

Jake Gyllenhaal as a lofty art critic was a prime choice – not only because there’s no other actor that can make a choppy bowl cut hairdo look charming –  but because, love him or hate him, the dude is this generation’s Daniel Day Lewis. In this role, he morphs into an over analytical archetype that descends into madness as the world he helped define caves in around him.

The abrasive gallery owner is portrayed by Rene Russo, wife of Gilroy, who serves as a fitting muse for the film. Her character, Rhodara, stops at nothing to make sure her gallery is one up from the competition, coercing artists and clients deviously. She points out that the concept of people making money on art has been going on since the beginning of time: “None of this is new, it’s all been done since someone charged a bone to see the first cave painting.”

“Velvet Buzzsaw” feels like it’s meant to be more of a dramatized satire of the high art society than a direct reflection, even if there are some parallels. John Malkovich plays the artist searching for his muse after getting sober. Toni Collette rocks the chicest bob as she dials in the conventions of a dynamo art curator. Natalia Dyer (“Stranger Things”) takes some scary cues from the hit TV show when channeling her role as the naive assistant.

Even though “Velvet Buzzsaw” is defined as a horror film, the horror isn’t just utilized by the obvious jump scares or the scenes that involve actual death. It’s more so the realization that you’re doing something wrong: making a profit and a name off someone’s work who had no say in the matter. When doing so, you disregard the potential danger of the paintings you put up on the walls.

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