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Velvet Buzzsaw: everything you need to know about Netflix’s new horror movie

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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It’s a story of art not only imitating life, but coming to life… And murdering people. 

There are two genres that flourish more than any others on Netflix: romantic comedies and horror.

Is it any surprise that people would rather watch terrifying thrillers from the comfort of their own sofa than in a multiplex surrounded by other people? Netflix gives people the opportunity to see a scary movie in the most relaxed, most comfortable context possible so that you can shriek and scream and cry to your heart’s content in total and complete privacy.

Next month, the streaming platform is releasing Velvet Buzzsaw, the latest in its line of horror movies. Directed by the filmmaker who made Nightcrawler and with an A-list cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette and Rene Russo, the movie tells the story of a woman who unearths a cache of paintings from a dead artist and sells them onto art dealer Morf Vanderwalt (Gyllenhaal). When he starts shilling the works to shallow gallery owners like Gretchen (Toni Collette), he discovers that the paintings aren’t just figuratively haunting, they’re literally haunted too, coming to life and murdering people for sport.

Here’s everything you need to know about this terrifying new movie. 

It has a major horror pedigree

Velvet Buzzsaw sees Gyllenhaal team up once more with Dan Gilroy, the American filmmaker behind Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler. In that 2014 movie, the actor starred as a photojournalist reporting on grizzly Los Angeles crimes, until he started pushing the boundaries in order to get the most exciting scoops for his editor, played by Russo, who also returns in Velvet Buzzsaw.

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in Velvet Buzzsaw

There’s much of Nightcrawler’s eerie, skin-crawling horror in Velvet Buzzsaw: just sub out seedy Los Angeles crime scenes for New York’s art world. But where Nightcrawler strove for realism, Velvet Buzzsaw doubles down on the supernatural elements. This is a film about paintings and sculptures that come to life, after all.

In one scene, as shown in the trailer, an artwork begins to bleed. In another, a figure from the canvas reaches out and grabs Gyllenhaal by the neck. The paintings also set people on fire and burn them with their pigments. One sculpture even manages to saw off Collette’s arms. This is art coming to life… and committing violent acts of crime.  

The cast is epic

Are you ready for this seriously A-list ensemble? Here we go. Velvet Buzzsaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Rene Russo, Daveed Diggs from the original Broadway cast of Hamilton and Tom Sturridge, to name just a few.

The main players are Gyllenhaal’s art dealer, Collette’s gallery owner and Josephina, the woman who discovers the mysterious dead artist’s works, played by Zawe Ashton. 

The film is also a satire 

Toni Collette

Velvet Buzzsaw is more than just a simple horror film. Gilroy has said that the movie also serves as a satire of the art industry and its obsession with newness. Vanderwalt doesn’t think twice about acquiring these mysterious paintings, even without knowing the identity of the artist or their history.

It’s his obsession with the ‘Next Big Thing’ that could prove to be his ultimately downfall. And let’s not get started on the clients and gallery owners who snap up the artworks greedily but end up paying the price.

What are the critics saying about it? 

Velvet Buzzsaw premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to mixed reviews. IndieWire called it “the kind of batsh*t insane, fiercely uncommercial gif-factory of a movie that only Netflix could make”. 

The AV Club described it as “toothless horror” and Vulture dubbed the star-studded cast a “colourful, uniformly narcissistic ensemble [who] enter and exit in fabulous outfits as they weave a tangled web of money, sex and influence”.

For The Hollywood Reporter: “it’s all somewhat amusing but rather arch.” 

Variety enjoyed it, though, noting that “it’s hardly great art, but Dan Gilroy’s Netflix-bound horror satire packs an undeniably trashy appeal”. 

So too did the Guardian. “Despite flaws, there’s a strange curiosity that propels Velvet Buzzsaw and Gilroy’s unusual, bitter, silly, and often very funny genre cocktail does make for a fun diversion.” Collider called it “a blast from start to finish”. 

When can I watch it?

Velvet Buzzsaw streams on Netflix from February 1. 

Images: Netflix

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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