Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is one of the most powerful art critics in America, and his yay or nay can potentially make or break an artist's show. He is in a privileged position of being able to mix with all these pieces and the rarefied air of the richest on the planet, who shell out to pay for the artworks not because they appreciate them for their beauty or significance, but their cost: the more they are worth financially, the better they are, according to those who buy. Morf, however, at least believes he has an eye for quality, which is why people listen to him, but when an acquaintance, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), makes a discovery, he is forced to reassess all he thought he knew...
Velvet Buzzsaw was not a satire on the art world, well, not entirely, it was more a work of revenge on anyone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and if that was an attack on critics, so be it. Writer and director Dan Gilroy had been the recipient of brickbats and bouquets throughout his career, so was well aware of what it was like to be judged both positively and negatively, yet did he know what it was like to be bought and sold like a commodity? This was the screenwriter of Kong: Skull Island, after all, so maybe he was not in the best place to be precious about his creations, though he did seem to be drawn to the exclusivity of art as a way of life.
As Josephina knows, it's difficult to get your start in that without being truly exceptional, or failing that, have a knack for self-publicity, so what she does is decide to piggyback on another's talent. She couldn't have picked a worse talent to do so, as it is more opportunism than a genuine feeling for the paintings she finds that propels her into the spheres of society dos at galleries. This is down to her stumbling across the artist's body in the apartment above hers, and seeing he has left a substantial body of extremely impressive work behind that she claims he was throwing out, so she is justified in helping herself to it. What she doesn't say is he gave explicit instructions for destruction.
Not merely of his paintings, either, as Velvet Buzzsaw turned out to be a horror movie, with the deceased getting his Freddy Krueger on by inventing as ingenious methods to end the lives of those exploiting him from beyond the grave as he possibly could. If anything, we could have done with more of these setpieces as they gave in to the trashier feelings of petulance you can feel when someone gives an opinion of you - or your work - that you are not particularly keen on. Not that murder is the overwhelming consequence of a judgement you think is unfair, and there was a sense that Gilroy should get a lot more perspective if he was sympathising with his supernatural killer, but on the other hand there was a juvenile glee in getting these pretentious and caustic characters into difficult positions.
Positions where they can be attacked by a painting of monkey mechanics, or have their arm sliced off by a conceptual item entitled Sphere where you're invited to stick said limb inside to see what it feels like there. It was all a bit silly, which may have been partly intentional, but did tend to go against the more serious views about making someone's creation into a commodity if they have poured their heart and soul into it. Fair enough, but not everyone creates masterpieces, and even those who seem like charlatans - artists and buyers alike - should not be above criticism, after all, we have the internet now, and what is that but billions of people making judgements on billions of other people? Criticism had been democratised and monetised so that anyone could do it and even gain from it, so why leave the ire for these wealthy snobs? Would Gilroy produce a sequel where those writing online product comments were next in the firing line? You left this with a worry that we were meant to believe no one knows anything, and opinions are worthless in the great scheme of things as only the creator was to be trusted. Music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.