As many know from reading reviews and article on this site, I cover the many subgenres of Horror, and one of niches is that of confusing subject called arthouse horror a changing grouping of films. Some find themselves profound, others inspire others, while many conduct society perceive norms often enough, the writers, directors, and creators don’t care for the labelling rather the sheer delight in creating the art for entertainment and debate. When one thinks of the films that filter into this mix sometimes, they draw to the recent releases of The Witch (2015), The Lighthouse (2019) or they pause with puzzlement over what else falls into the category, hence these all fit well enough, Raw (2016); Martyrs (2008); Mandy (2018), most acclaimed The Wicker Man (1973) and Suspiria (1977) definitely overlooked obscure gem from Mark Powell called Peeping Tom (1960). This of course brings us to screenwriter and director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler [2014]) latest creation which mixes mystery and thriller concepts into a slight horror movie, or rather arthouse horror, mainly due the story and subject it left more to the viewer for their own interpenetrations of the scenes (after all that is what art is) and oft-kilted humor, however there’s that title which hooks most horror fans in an unknowing trap, what in the world does it mean it contains a dual meaning one for the enduring brutal art-industry and other NSFW term.

The concept of art is hard to define to some, inspirational to others, profitable and also controversial to many, in other words something for everyone, gothic fans to classical pieces, abstract to simplistic this becomes the center of the movie. Many artists pour their tears, pain, anguish and even blood into their artwork, it attracts greed and lust, some kill for their work to hang galleries and museums and collectors would do anything to have it in their collection. Karma plays a major part in this movie concerning each of the characters’ intentions and motives, a world filled fake emotions, and phony relationships each one more toxic and their actions thorough presumptuous.

Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal (Life [2017])) plays merciless and brutal art critic, the industry’s god, who’s rude and thoroughly insulting a bundle of stereotypes often found in the art-world, his character is overly flamboyant. Every industry has a god, and equally a goddess, who is Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo (Outbreak [1995])), who formerly was in a punk band called Velvet Buzzsaw and ruthlessly runs the top gallery for famous artists such as Piers (John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire [2000])) and numerous up-n-commers, though her customers are more concerned with profits than precious beauty. These two show their competent for everyone beneath them, equally protective of the place in the socially closed-off dynamic of power and money. Haze’s staff consists of her assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton), Coco (Natalia Dyer) and workman Bryson (Billy Magnussen), each with their own goals and strive to gain traction into the ‘beautiful world of velvet ropes’. It is Josephina that finds her neighbors disturbing artwork, but ignores his dying request for it all be destroyed before it comes back request pain and suffering. However, the enticement of greed sparkling in her eyes, while Morf and Rhodora praise this new discovery. Something dangerous hides inside the art. So where’s the horror well that’s not clear-cut, the movie strives in a campy direction, that’s not saying there’s isn’t blood, for example a museum director Gretchen (Toni Collette (Krampus [2015])) loses her arm to something hidden in an art display only after he look at the profit margin of this new-found art. Sadly, the dead man art creator Vetril Dease, doesn’t get a more fully developed backstory, just a typical crazed inmate in an asylum, horrendously mistreated, very stereotypically handled. It’s very difficult to explain more without revealing too much of the plot and storyline needless a weird world to welcome pure lovers of art and condemn those seeking personal gains with exposure to disturbing truths.

Gilroy delivers a dark campy movie that tries to show the art-world as one filled with pain and suffering of artists, but most cinematic lovers have enjoyed countless hours of entertainment and understand the time, patience and YES even the madness to create ‘art’. However what is portrayed on the screen gives the audience a Hellraiser puzzle box treatment meeting Final Destination kill sequences; it’s all done with broad brush strokes. This reflects by the numerous characters, too many for the actual plot, and with that some thoroughly underuse of John Malkovich’s appearance is quite fleeting, this occurs with others use for brief onscreen glances. Nevertheless Jake’s portrayal of Morf excludes a self-righteousness attituded it’s a wonder how anyone in the story keeps any respect for him, supposedly his reputation allowed for these indulgences. Russo, can’t be omitted in the praise she delivers the serious businesswoman mentality to her character, who keeps reinventing herself and achieving more wealth to feed her insatiable appetite of greed, one wonders if in her past he she was either violated or exploited vowing never to be in the position again. The dialogue sounds bloated with tax break references, and scattered lines that feel directed to certain audience members familiar with the subject material on a different level, and thereby omitting others from entry.

There are a few subtle issues with the movie namely the outline of the storyline is scatterbrained, there’s condemning of the art-world, and praise, much of the conjecture occurring in the first act, with open-ended thoughts left floundering by the conclusion. Often viewers don’t like preachy movies, unless perhaps it’s a documentary, but narrative story needs that, propel it forward, in the straightest path possible. While sometimes leaving viewers with some debatable views for interpretations is a good thing, such as with Midsommar (2019) or Hereditary (2018) trying that throughout the movie becomes an iffy proposition. Overall, it’s a slow-burning story with flamboyant stereotypes that might switch-off some, unless they can overcome the sarcasm and the obvious swipes at the trendy art industry, proceed with caution.


  • From the writer and director of “Nightcrawler”
  • All art is dangerous.

IMDb Rating: 5.7/10

Baron’s Rating: 5.5/10


*Curious of NSFW of Velvet Buzzsaw go here