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Now that the paint has dried and a few weeks has passed since Velvet Buzzsaw was unveiled on Netflix, it seems a good time as any for this Surgeon to dissect Dan Gilroy’s third movie from the director’s chair.

Gilroy’s debut, Nightcrawler was a disturbing vision of a violent, voyeuristic underbelly of US society as depicted by the media, so there was much anticipation ahead of his third outing.

Teaming up once again with stars Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal, Velvet Buzzsaw promised to be another dark and twisted journey into the recesses of the art world, both of whom excel in their respective parts; Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt (great name by the way), an art critic who’s mind begins to unravel as the true horror behind Arts latest discovery Vetril Dease unleashes an evil that threatens the fabrication of materialism and expression to its foundations and rip it to shreds; and respected gallery owner Rhodora Haze, who is every shadow of perfection, but has a her own demons lurking within.

Having shuffled off this mortal coil, Dease’s work is discovered by Josephina (who also works for Rhodora, and coincidentally is having an affair with Gyllenhaal’s Morf) in his apartment and seeking a chance to lift her profile, nabs the lot in search of fortune.

And therein lies the rub.

Every character it seems is in search of their own personal glorification and with each stride to ‘perfection’, they fall deeper into the labyrinth of sin and despair.
None more so than Toni Collette’s Gretchen, who gets so bitter and twisted as she distorts and manipulates her grounding in order to establish a firm footing within the Artistic community.

Interestingly though, it’s only those that feed off the creative types and promote their material in order to meet their own ends, are the ones that get popped off one by one. Some, in glorious fashion.

The artists themselves are deeply affected by Dease’s paintings but instead of utter destruction, it only empowers them to go and create again. As if to explore their own passions and free their souls to be reborn, or thrive once more. 

The only other exception is Coco (everyone’s assistant) who is basically everyone’s pawn and unfortunately is the discoverer of most of the victims.

So far so bloody fabulous. Gilroy does a stellar job at tapping into the heart of the savagery embedded in the Art world, and there are hints of Altmanesque style of direction, as he weaves a multi-layered character narrative.

Ultimately though, where Gilroy succeeded with Nightstalker with its transcendence into hell, with Velvet Buzzsaw, he seems to get lost in the vortex of disillusionment. The more Gilroy subjects his characters to the turmoil within their own psyche, the more fantastical and hyper realistic their world becomes, alienating the audience as a result.

The Diagnosis:

Velvet Buzzsaw like most works of art is subjective to the perception of its viewer or audience. Some may find it a stroke of genius that embodies the ugly psyche of the human mind; others will declare it a façade. When you lift the veil on the mania and manufactured lifestyle that the characters lead, all that’s left is circles in the sand… but then again, maybe that was Gilroy’s point.

  • Saul Muerte