Warning: Spoilers ahead. Have you been ensorcelled by Netflix’s campy art world horror thriller, Velvet Buzzsaw? If you didn’t have to google that word, the answer is probably “yes.” Following its premiere at Sundance and subsequent roll-out on the streaming platform on February 1st, viewers have been left with many a question. Like, “what the heck is a taste relationship?” and, “has anyone seen the Pantone chips for cornstalk and saddleback?” (All vital information the world needs to know.) But perhaps the biggest of them all? The answer to what, exactly, was causing all that art to come to life and start murderin’. Who or what is the killer spirit from Velvet Buzzsaw? Allow us to explain.
On the surface, the answer is simple: Ventril Dease, the dead artist off whose works the likes of critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), competing gallerists Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge), assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton), installer Bryson (Billy Magnusson), and museum worker Gretchen (Toni Collette) attempt to extensively profit. It was his soul — his physical being; as the art examiner explained, it was hard to know what was paint and what was blood — that was entrapped in the paintings and made them so positively transfixing. But it’s also what made them so deadly. The soul of an artist hides many things, good and bad and often transfixing. But when that gets co-opted and sold for greed and commercial success, especially if that’s not what the artist wanted, things can turn deadly (in this case, in the literal sense).
As director Dan Gilroy explained to EW, “I wanted to explore the relationship between art and commerce in today’s world … I feel the quality of a work shouldn’t be judged by the volume of social media engagement or number of views or clicks or the amount that was paid for something. That’s not to say that commercial success diminishes a work; it doesn’t, but I believe it doesn’t define it either. I’m saying in Velvet Buzzsaw that art is more than a commodity and let’s not forget it.”
You could also take this idea one step further, because — as with all good horror — it’s also a metaphor for the art world at large. Using the film’s moral consequences as a basis for its belief system, you can see the inference that art and its creation are tied up in the personal demons of the artist, for better or for worse. Here, it was decidedly for the worse, as demons were made literal in paint. But it can also be seen as allegory: after all, how many artistic works can you think of that have been ostensibly ruined by the dirty deeds of the creators themselves? (We won’t name names, but we’re sure you could list a few.) In Velvet Buzzsaw, the potential for wreckage is only compounded by the greed of those trying to exploit it.
And when you think about it, it makes sense: who are the only happy people at the end of the film? The two artists — Damrish (Daveed Diggs) and Piers (John Malkovich) — that chose to create work for themselves. To let art be what it’s going to be, even if that means it gets swept up by the tides of the sea.