“What if art fairs, but acid?” is the aesthetic of the bananas trailer for Netflix’s new satirical horror film, Velvet Buzzsaw, released yesterday.
In it, Jake Gyllenhaal is back working with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy. Gyllenhaal stars as Morf Vandewalt, a perennially dissatisfied art critic with bad hair and tortoiseshell glasses, who is navigating the LA contemporary art scene alongside a star-studded cast including John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and Rene Russo.
For the viewers who might be expecting a standard art-heist film or character study (we know Hollywood loves an art theft and Gyllenhaal a brooding protagonist), you’re in for a big surprise: Josephina (played by Wanderlust‘s Zawe Ashton) soon discovers a cache of disturbing paintings made by a dead neighbor. Fast forward 10 seconds and it’s revealed that the subjects of the paintings (some of which were made with blood!) are in fact sentient, and are mostly interested in murdering the people around them.
Gilroy told Vanity Fair that he wanted to make a film that investigated art’s complicated relationship with capitalism. Artists like Banksy, for example, often strive to create works that cannot be commodified, but find themselves repeatedly thwarted by the contemporary art machine. The idea for Velvet Buzzsaw was “to explore how, when art and commerce are dangerously out of balance, bad things can happen,” Gilroy said, through the lens of satire. Gilroy describes it as “a satirical thriller set in the big-money art world of LA.”
Much of the film appears to take place on a convention center floor, one that looks a lot like that of Miami’s recent Art Basel fair, the world’s biggest contemporary art fair. The fair itself brings in collectors, celebrities, and critics, and is known as much for its multimillion-dollar paintings as it is for its gross, cash-fueled excess marked by a week of lavish, beachside fêtes. However, in Velvet Buzzsaw, the tension between capital and art has deadly consequences when the subjects of the paintings—demonic-looking people and animals—start attacking the self-important, overdressed, over-coiffed art dealers appraising them.
The haunted painting trope is not totally original—we’ve seen it in the 2009 film Dorian Grey, based on the 1890 Oscar Wilde novel, as well as more recently in the 2017 reboot of It. Meanwhile, Gilroy is, perhaps unknowingly, echoing elements of the real-life art world, where beautiful art can cause heart attack, giants like Warhol painted with bodily fluids, and where blood is certainly not unheard of as a medium. The pieces on Velvet Buzzsaw‘s convention center also accurately reflect contemporary art scene’s taste: at one point in the trailer, an unsuspecting Gretchen (Collette) is killed by a murderous platinum orb, which itself looks remarkably similar to the work of Anish Kapoor, most famous for “Cloud Gate,” the Chicago sculpture known as “The Bean.” Coincidentally, a man recently suffered injuries after falling into an eight-foot hole that made up a Kapoor installation called Descent Into Limbo.
Velvet Buzzsaw comes out on Netflix on Feb. 1. Watch the trailer here:
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