In this grisly art-world satire, Velvet Buzzsaw opens with a renowned art critic, Morf Vandewalt (the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal), in his designer sunglasses, turning his pompous, gimlet eye on artwork at the highly hyped Art Basel Miami show. Pontificating about what he considers worthy or unworthy, Morf has the power to punish or reward.
Everything starts conventionally with the cocktail circuit of groveling artists’ representatives, but soon it turns grisly. Velvet Buzzsaw relishes in satirizing the pompous art-world, blending horror inside an artist’s disturbed mind.
The disturbed mind is that of a deceased elderly man, Vetril Dease, whose paintings are discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton) , a recently fired art gallery assistant. Although Dease had instructed that his paintings be destroyed after his death, Josephina ambitiously appropriates them. She sees an opportunity for profit, power, and status. Partnering with her former boss (Rene Russo), the powerhouse owner of the Haze gallery, the two women form an unholy alliance to sell Dease’s “outsider art” for exorbitant sums of money. Despite the fact that Rhodora Haze had humiliated Josephine previously, the young assistant soon becomes indispensable to Rhodora.
Art becomes personal, and Dease’s mysterious paintings have a mind of their own. What if the figures in his paintings reflect the artist’s past pain and suffering? Dease’s fear, melancholy, menace and agony?
Seemingly unfazed by growing concerns over Dease’s work and his past, Rhodora imperiously manipulates the profits from this windfall collection, creating more buzz as some paintings are destroyed. Josephina is her accomplice.
Velvet Buzzsaw’s pacing is skillful and adept with what-will-happen-next tension. However, a few images are almost too far-fetched, even for the horror genre. Part “Black Mirror” and part classic “The Red Violin”, the viewer is left asking questions from the ambiguity of the ending: Who is the perfect victim for a cursed object? When is the punishment too extreme for the crime? Velvet Buzzsaw is sharply rendered.
Note: This is a new release, a Netflix Original, with grisly deaths and a few bloody scenes.