Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is an art agent in the midst of losing Piers, an old, established artist who may be on his way out, but gaining Damrish, an up and coming artist with fresh talent and obligations elsewhere.
Piers (John Malkovish) is a successful artist who fears his best days are behind him now that he’s sober.
Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge) is the agent who’s just stolen Piers away, and is about to discover how little output there’s been.
Damrish (Daveed Diggs) is the hot, new artist, living and showing on the street just 6 months ago, about to become the next celebrity artist.
Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is Rhodora’s protegee who finds a way of wriggling out from under her shadow when she discovers the work of an unknown artist, which is an instant success.
Gretchen (Toni Collette) is a museum curator sick of always losing the best pieces to wealthy clients, so she’s lined up a new job as a private buyer and is in search of the perfect, undiscovered piece.
Bryson (Billy Magnussen) is the gallery’s handyman, and also a struggling, jealous artist himself.
Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is god of them all, an art critic who can make or break careers.
Velvet Buzzsaw’s art world is shook by the new paintings acquired by Josephina. SHOOK. Everyone’s falling over themselves, not to mention crossing and backstabbing each other, to get a piece of the pie. But the thing about this art is that it’s angry. In fact, some sort of supernatural force is exacting revenge on anyone who’s too mercenary. If you’ve let greed guide your hand, you’re in trouble. And who of the above has clean hands? I’d be very, very nervous if I was them. There’s a great deal to be nervous about as a viewer as well. Tension is layered on thicker than gouache on canvas. The film is dark and atmospheric by nature, and director Dan Gilroy heightens things at just the right moments, making the viewing experience deliciously uncomfortable at times. It’s unlikely that criticism and capitalism will escape the ghost’s judgment, which is brutal and bloody and ruthless.
The last time director Dan Gilroy teamed up with Jake Gyllenhaal, they produced Nightcrawler. You can’t blame the film community for wetting itself over this new movie, even if we’re also justifiably a little concerned about Gilroy’s more recent work, Roman J. Esquire, which was much less fantastic. Velvet Buzzsaw is somewhere in the middle, well, not just somewhere – definitely closer to Nightcrawler on the spectrum, which I’m happy to report. It’s a little uneven, the dialogue a little clunky sometimes, but the visuals don’t just make up for it – they’re unforgettable (Nightcrawler’s visionary cinematographer Robert Elswit is back, and primal as ever). A horror in technicolour! Not to mention the team of talent that pulls together this satire-horror hybrid and makes it pulse with urgency and vitality. Jake Gyllenhaal is of course the standout, bold and unwavering.
Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t everything I wish it was, but it’s a distinct piece of cinema and a real coup for Netflix.