Velvet Buzzsaw, as it makes itself immediately known, is both a horror film and a satire. And it’s a satire of the best type, which is that of the the affluent and grandiose. AKA, it makes fun of rich people.
The premise is simple; Twilight Zone or 80s horror anthology simple. After a mysterious art collection is uncovered, those who create and curate the highest tiers of the art world find themselves besieged by a supernatural force.
The story asks you to take a lot at face value and gives us only half-hearted reaches towards a backstory. Sometimes this approach rubs viewers the wrong way, since horror as a genre already asks us to suspend our disbelief in order to imagine and enjoy. But it doesn’t seemed forced or lazy here. This may be because more emphasis is put on the satire aspect rather than the horror. After all, when your film’s first kill includes a painted monkey that comes to life, you’ll need more to hold interest.
The brightest aspect of the movie is the cast and the characters they play. Rene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, and all the rest excel in portraying vapid, selfish, condescending, and arrogant art world elitists. Cliches, yes, but every cliche is born from some truth.
The characters are meant to be hated, even Jake’s chiseled and handsome art critic. No one is relatable and there is certainly no one we want to succeed or survive (unless you want to start roping in the background characters). But this does make the death scenes a little more enjoyable; high brow comeuppance and karma. And I’d even wager that many of us secretly want to be these kinds of people. We want to be rich and successful and pretty, even if it means we’ll become insufferable. We want to throw shade at the funeral of a frenemy and have our friends snicker alongside us. We want to be hated and loved at the same time.
Sadly, the film is not perfect. While it shines as a satire, it flickers like an old light bulb as a horror film. It’s slow, sometimes more comical than scary, and the body count is spread too thinly. I kept feeling like the movie either needed to tighten its pace, or add more scares to fill its nearly two hour runtime.
Also, if you’re wondering how Velvet Buzzsaw gets a review here, a queer horror blog, you must’ve missed the constant pandering of other reviews and press releases. Headlines everywhere upon its release seemed to shout out and celebrate Jake Gyllenhaal playing a bisexual art critic. But I wasn’t fooled and, thankfully, neither were many others. Gyllenhaal himself isn’t bisexual (as far as I know), and his character Morf spends most of the film having sex with a woman and trying to build a relationship with her. This, my friends, is what we call bi-erasure, which is the ignorance behind improperly portraying bisexual characters in media. And, while sadly expected, it’s not a cute look.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. It’s a fun, albeit silly little ride from Netflix, who have proven themselves a decent force when it comes to releasing genre films. But if you’re looking for fast-paced thrills or a movie that for once gets a bi-character right, this ain’t it.