Despite tonal problems, Netflix’s art thriller Velvet Buzzsaw still a gory romp about art’s elite

Neil Runge | Staff Writer


Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw is an exciting and enjoyable art piece that takes a critical look at the professional art scene of Los Angeles.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays art critic Morf, Rene Russo as gallery owner Rhodora Haze and Zawe Ashton, playing Rhodora’s business partner Josephina as the leads of the film. The big names don’t stop at the main characters; minor characters are played by Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Toni Collette and Natalie Dyer.

After an apartment filled with paintings is found by Josephina, a supernatural entity targets the artists and collectors who allow greed to overshadow the desire to put art into the world. The greedy that corrupt the art scene are killed by the art they selfishly surround themselves with. It’s a plot that director Dan Gilroy takes and turns into a fun to watch thriller.

The dialogue is what makes the film campy. At times it doesn’t fit the artsy aesthetic of the setting, but it adds to the tension, drama and unintentionally, the humor. The R rating allows for the f-bomb to be dropped, and Gilroy takes advantage of that. An excessive amount of swearing causes moments of the movie that should be serious to turn into something closer to a slapstick comedy special than a scene before someone loses an arm.

It doesn’t really matter that the dialogue is cheesy at times because the cast delivers it with such passion and sincerity, especially Gyllenhaal. He gives a contemptible art critic depth and a character arc that turns Morf into a sympathetic man who tries his hardest to get the others to believe him about the paintings. It was another emotion-filled performance from Gyllenhaal.

On top of that, Gyllenhaal’s character is bisexual. Morf’s bisexuality isn’t resigned to subtext. There are scenes throughout the movie that show him having feelings for both men and women. This is important because oftentimes, gay, lesbian or bisexual identities are hidden away or never shown in the thriller genre especially.

Zawe Ashton’s portrayal of Josephina shouldn’t be overlooked though. She was astounding because Josephina is a complex character. An on-and-off-again lover of Morf, she isn’t reduced to just being the assistant or the lover. She’s ambitious and strives towards her goals with a plan, something that doesn’t happen often for female characters in thrillers, women are usually just killed off before they get the chance to speak.

These two performances, along with the others, allow the moral lesson about greed to shine. The message of Gilroy’s film is that greed should never take over any aspect of life but specifically art. Whether it’s selling paintings or critiquing them, the point is to let art just exist. Putting Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix where it’s relatively free only furthers that point. It is allowing the art of the movie to exist as freely as it can.

A colorful gore-filled thriller, Velvet Buzzsaw is fun to watch and has a deeper meaning behind the screams of characters as the art that surrounds them, kills them.