I am usually the first to avoid horror films, but the trailer for Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw intrigued me. A horror film concerning the art world is quite an original premise, and I was looking forward to seeing how the art world was portrayed.
The film follows art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he searches for originality within Miami Basel, and is soon haunted by a supernatural force seeking revenge on art gallerists pursuing profit from the artworks of an unknown dead painter.
Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in Velvet Buzzsaw (Image: Variety/Netflix)
If you, like myself, are tired of the stereotypical art critic who wears a black turtleneck, pinches their chin as they look at an artwork and is internally tortured, you might as well avoid this film. It portrays people in the contemporary art world as vague and lacking substance. Now, I have no idea whether this is true, but it is a pretty unoriginal stereotype of the art world.
The issues that the film brought up were interesting. Whilst it is good in the way that it shows how dominating the factor of money is, it does nothing to help the idea that art is accessible or easy to talk about.
It raises a thought-provoking point as to how the death of an artist raises the prices of their work, as well as how with the use of mixed media in the contemporary art world, audiences often find it difficult to know what is art and what is not. They also draw on the idea of art ‘collectives’ vs. capitalist dealers. It shows people taking selfies in front of art and uses the old joke of rubbish bags being a piece of artwork, revealing how people often sound as if they are making things up when they call it ‘remarkable’.
The relationships presented are gag-worthy. Art assistant Josephina says that she will not date artists, as ‘they are already in a relationship’, implying that artists are entirely devoted to their art. The relationship between Josephina (Zawe Ashton) and Morf felt too dramatic and flimsy. In fact, none of the characters in this film were likeable.
Even if you could ignore all of this, the horror isn’t even merit-worthy. Art combusting is not scary, but perhaps a bit spooky. And this comes from a self-professed wimp. The sharp violin music did nothing to add suspense. Looking through the artist's life felt slightly like a Buzzfeed Unsolved video.
At the end of the film, the critic is presented a soundscape of his own scathing reviews. Is this meant to show us that harsh critics should stop being so mean? A majority of the most famous artworks in the last century have faced incredibly harsh criticism.
Perhaps the joining of horror, auction houses and art stereotypes was the perfect mix of things I don’t like. Perhaps I’m biased. Nevertheless, I will not be watching this again. This is not a positive or constructive view of the art world but most importantly, it is not even a good film.