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Film / Velvet Buzzsaw

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Velvet Buzzsaw is a 2019 horror film written and directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), released internationally on Netflix.

Set in the Los Angeles art scene, a gallery owned by former rock star Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is rocked by the discovery: a collection of incredible artwork by reclusive artist Vetril Dease, who has just died under mysterious circumstances.

When Rhodora decides to display and sell Dease's work posthumously, she and various members of her social circle find themselves terrorized by the very art their lives are dependent on. Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, Natalia Dyer, and John Malkovich also star.

Velvet Tropesaw:

  • Almighty Janitor: Bryson considers himself this to the Haze Gallery, but it's mostly in his head.
  • All Part of the Show: The morning after Gretchen gets killed by the Sphere, visitors mistake her corpse as part of the artwork.
  • Ambiguously Evil: We never really get to know Vetril Dease before his death, so no one can be certain if he created the cursed paintings on purpose — having made them as revenge against abusive and greedy individuals — or if he made them by accident. Did he try to have his paintings destroyed because he began to regret making them, or did he fear for his own life from its curse?
  • Amoral Attorney: The Haze Gallery employs three who coach Josephina on her story about how she found Dease's artwork, which includes omitting the fact that she broke into his apartment. All three are Karma Houdinis.
  • And I Must Scream: Josephina is lured into a graffiti exhibit that forms from out of nowhere. When she walks in and is distracted by her phone, the graffiti paint melts off the walls and covers her, melding her into the street art once its done.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Gretchen's arm is cut off by Sphere, and she bleeds out until she dies.
  • Anomalous Art: For some reason, Dease's body of work has the power to bring works of art to life in a manner that kills its victims.
  • Anti-Hero: Rhodora, Josephina, and Morf. They probably aren’t quite bad enough to fall under Villain Protagonist, but all three are shady and materialistic.
  • Art Attacker: The curse on Dease's art uses art itself as a weapon to harm people who profit off it.
  • Artistic License – Art: The Haze Gallery is shown to primarily deal in non-representational and contemporary works of art, so that fact that they are so keen on getting the rights to Dease's outsider-expressionist landscapes and portraits comes across as rather antithetical to their business model. Then again, its owner Rhodora is shown to be rather cutthroat and the paintings tend to have a visceral effect on people who see them, so it's likely that she only wanted them to spite her competitors.
  • Asshole Victim: Pretty much everybody who's killed by the art; see the Karmic Death entry below. This does get downplayed with the final victims, especially Morf, who tries to warn everyone about the curse and hide away the paintings.
  • Bad Boss: Jon, Rhodora and Gretchen aren't that pleasant to work for. Gretchen in particular won't even open the door for some workers carrying a heavy crate of paintings.
  • Bastard Understudy: it's implied that Jon was one to Rhodoraa in the past, and Josephina is also pretty far down that path by the end of the movie.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Josephina and Coco's first scene has Coco breaking it to Jospehina that she saw Josephina's boyfriend making out with another girl in a bar. Coco is also the one to inform Morf later that Ed was giving Rhodora first access to Morf's reviews before he made them public, hence why Rhodora was buying art pieces at the same time Morf was giving them positive critiques as if they were on the same wavelength.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Gretchen’s old museum colleagues, who she really puts the screws to during their negotiations.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Ed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kinda. Half of the characters are killed off over their greed and desire of popularity, with the exception being Peirs and Coco, who survived by sheer luck and Damrish himself only survives due to the fact he returns back to making art for the art instead of just about the money. The downside however is that homeless people steal Dease's art thanks to Bryson crashing his truck and it's content ejected out of the back at the gas station when delivering some of the art to storage at Rhonda's insistence to sell for later. They begin to sell it for cheap.
    • Critics have made the suggestion that Dease's curse might not extend to the new buyers though, since they're buying it because they genuinely like it, rather than because of fame/prestige.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Josephina at first, Rhodora loves treating her like crap and it isn't until after she finds Dease's art that she begins treating her well.
    • Coco really doesn't get a break in the film, with her finding Jon, Gretchen, and Morf's dead bodies throughout the film. She even lets out a "FUCK ME!" with the latter.
  • Body Horror: The bloody deaths of Gretchen and Rhodora, Josephina also counts, but in a much more surreal way..
  • Break the Haughty: Morf, starting after Gretchen dies.
  • Broken Aesop: Almost to the point of Glurge, were it not for Damrish who still wants to exhibit his art, just with his original, smaller scale exhibitionist. The movie has an obvious message about appreciating art for its own sake, instead of valuing it solely for monetary purposes. People who do sell art either professionally or for a quick buck are snobs and/or greedy and should all die, even if they realize why that is wrong and try to redeem themselves.
    • Space Whale Aesop: Alternatively, don't sell a dead artist's paintings against his wishes, or his vengeful curse will kill you and everyone who makes a profit on it.
  • But Not Too Bi: Morf's relationship with Josephina gets more emphasis, and he breaks up with Ed offscreen.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Gretchen admits that she's betrayed her youthful principals for money, and doesn't seem that upset over it.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • When Rhodora first begins believing in the curse in spite of herself she looks closely and suspiciously at a charcoal piece of a woman sitting on the ground with an animal beside them and two human shadows approaching. After removing the art from her house, she unintentionally recreates the scene, signifying she's not safe just before her own buzzsaw tattoo drills into her neck.
    • The buzzsaw tattoo itself, which is highlighted early in the film on the back of Rhodora's neck. After she realizes the extent of Dease's curse, she gets rid of all the artwork in her house. But she still has one piece of art left on her person...
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The robotic "Hoboman" sculpture.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The monkey painting that kills Bryson changes when he's not looking.
  • Cruel Mercy: It initially looks like Rhodora will survive, but at the cost of never being able to be near a piece of art again. Then we remember her tattoo.
  • Cursed Item: Dease's artwork apparently has some sort of curse placed in them, which harms those who profit from it.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Zigzagged. Dease's death and his work nearly being thrown out are indeed a big selling point for his paintings, but they’re also admired for their merit by many people (notably Morf is enthralled when he sees some of them on Josephina's lunch table before he's even heard of Dease, let alone that he's dead). And living artists like Damrish and Piers are also big sellers.
  • Face of a Thug: The head of Damrish's art collective looks and acts like a street-thug, though he is never seen actually being violent and has no hard feelings with Damrish when he decides to go back.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Just when it seems like Rhodora has successfully removed every piece of art from her home after realizing it's been the cause of the deaths in her social circle, there's still the buzzsaw tattoo on the back of her neck...
  • Final Girl: Coco, who seems like a decent person, is the only character directly involved in the plot who makes it out alive. Lightly Inverted with Piers, a more elderly artist who is somewhat involved with the plot at the start of the film.
  • Foil: Coco to Josephina, both are abused assistant who try to assert themselves through slightly underhanded means. Josephina has more success by being more aggressive and underhanded, and genuinely passionate about art, all of which are probably why Dease goes after her but not Coco.
  • Foreshadowing: Hoboman's artist telling Morf how the statute is being kept in storage because his review killed the sell.
  • Genre Mashup: The genre of the film ranges from horror to satire to slasher to psychological thriller, often from scene to scene.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Morf and Rhodora's efforts to get rid of the art after they accept it is cursed.
    • Coco telling Morf that she doesn't think he's crazy, after having found two dead bodies already that can't be explained satisfactorily.
  • The Ghost: Josephina's ex-boyfriend Ricky is mentioned frequently, and Morf goes to his art show to (at Josephina's request) leave a bad review, but he himself never physically appears.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: While part of it is business, Jon shows a lot of this towards the Haze gallery, and goes after they're artists, stealing Piers and hiring Ruskinspear to dig up dirt on Dease.
  • Hand in the Hole: How Gretchen dies.
  • Handsome Lech: Bryson is adequately attractive, but Josephina is repulsed by him and claims to have rebuked his advances on her.
  • Harmful to Minors: The kids who found Gretchen's body and played with the blood, thinking it was just an exhibit.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sound art scene, where Morf is tortured by various voices coming from the microphones (some of which are his) throwing all his critiques back at him with increasing intensity. When the head of the exhibition showcasing the room comes in to reveal that he was supposed to hear whale sounds and that his experience hasn't been started yet, he wisely books it and begins to understand the curse.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Twice. Gretchen did insist on the Sphere being displayed and it kills her, while Morf's bad review keeping Hoboman from being sold and instead kept in a storage locker backfired horribly on him.
  • Human Resources: At one point in the film, the research into Dease's paintings revealed that human flesh and tissue was used for the reds and blacks in his works.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Morf implies that Josephina is the only girl who makes him question his sexuality.
  • Informed Attribute: While Damrish's art is being marketed as the next big thing and that working with the Haze Gallery — who have a history of making rising stars out of their clients — the audience is never given a glimpse of any of his creations. When he decides to leave the Haze gallery, Josephina derisively calls it "Street Art", though since Haze Gallery works primarily with contemporary abstract and conceptual pieces, it is likely a marriage of the two.
  • Ironic Echo: "I can't save you", Hoboman's stupid catchphrase, is repeated by it as it snaps Morf's neck.
  • Irony: At the end, the cursed paintings that the art world elite loved them because it would make them a fortune and were planning to make millions off of in acts of pure greed are sold on the street corner for as little as five dollars to people who were buying them simply because they liked them, and therefor truly appreciating Dease's work like the "professionals" never did.
  • It's All About Me: Josephina gradually slips into this.
  • Just Following Orders: Interestingly Dease's spirit seems to respect this, as people who threaten or meddle into his affairs under their own initiative become targets while those peripherally involved due to their employers orders (such as Gita, who works on preparing his paintings for exhibit, and Ruskinspear, the detective who looks into his past for Jon) are left alone.
  • Karmic Death: Each of the deaths in the film reflect the person being killed in some way:
    • Bryson, a sleazy gallery worker who was planning to steal some of the paintings to sell for a mint, is killed by a painting of monkeys working on a car.
    • Jon, a rival gallery owner willing to sabotage the competition, is strangled and hanged by an art installation before he can tell the press about Dease's troubled life.
    • Gretchen, an over-involved curator who meddles with Morf's personal life after their falling-out, has her arm cut off by an interactive piece with holes for observers to reach into, bleeding out to death.
    • Morf, a pessimistic critic who will tear down anything he sees, gets his neck snapped by a robotic piece he critiqued earlier in the film.
    • Josephina, a snob who discovered Dease's art in the first place, literally becomes art as she's flattened into a wall of graffiti, i.e. "low" art.
    • Rhodora, who insisted to sell off Dease's art without his consent, is killed by the buzzsaw tattoo (which she can't see) on the back of her neck when it comes to life, slashing her throat.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Jon, who briefly mistakes trash bag lying on the floor for a work of art.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The curse only targets people who try to profit off of Dease's body of work and do underhanded means in the process. Characters who merely appreciate the paintings like Damrish and Piers or are just getting by like Coco leave the movie virtually unscathed.
  • Mood Whiplash: More squeeing over Dease's work, then asking about the book rights.
  • Mr. Exposition: There’s several, albeit all fairly interesting characters:
    • Ruskinspear, the private investigator who investigates Dease and uncovers the details of his Dark and Troubled Past.
    • The landlords employee who tells Josephina about Dease's paintings in the first place, and his final instructions to burn.
    • The VA janitor who tells Morf about Dease maybe killing someone in the past.
    • Gita the restorer, who looks into the methodology of Dease's paintings, and discovers they were painted with blood.
  • The Muse: Dease's art inspires both Peirs and Damrish to leave the increasingly toxic gallery scene and revisit their roots as creators. Whatever infernal force lives in the paintings never targets them due to them simply enjoying the works instead of trying to make a dime off of them.
  • The Namesake: The title of the film comes from Rhodora's old rock band, Velvet Buzzsaw. It's also what kills her at the end.
  • Neck Snap: Morf is killed in this way by the Hoboman, a robotic sculpture.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: Invoked. Ruskinspear invokes this trope when questioning whether the art world will care about what he dug up, although Jon expresses confidence that they will.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never find out how Dease's paintings are cursed, the only clues we are ever given being that he made the red and black pigments from human blood and that whatever was wrong with them, he tried destroying them before he died, so it is unlikely caused by his ghost.
  • Old Master/ Drunken Master: Piers is an artist example.
  • Offscreen Breakup: Morf breaks up with his boyfriend offscreen, and it's only referred to in dialogue later.
  • Off the Wagon: Piers is mentioned to have quit drinking early in the film. After Jon's apparent suicide, he reveals to Rhodora that he's resumed drinking again.
  • Opportunistic Bastard:
    • Jon hiring Coco just to pump for information about the Haze Gallery after her interview.
    • Josephina and Rhodora stealing Dease's paintings from his apartment in the first place.
    • The homeless men who take the paintings from Bryson's crashed truck: YMMV on whether doing that (and selling the paintings to ordinary people for much humbler prices) makes them a Good Counterpart to the upper-class Haze Gallery.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Rhodora's speech to Piers at the first funeral, where rather than show frustration at his slump, she recalls a story about her dead bandmate, before gently telling him to take time off and create something for himself.
    • Josephina giving Coco Dease's cat might be this or just her wanting to palm it off on someone.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Josephina discovering Dease's corpse is what launches the plot of the film.
  • Posthumous Character: Dease has died by the time more is revealed about him.
  • Private Detective: Rhodora employs one (although he feels more like The Fixer from what we hear of his phone call) to find out about Dease and hide some stuff from his past. Upon learning of this from Coco, Jon employs another to dig up that same information to try and smear the Dease exhibition.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Jon to Piers, while visiting his studio.
  • Properly Paranoid: The VA janitor is reluctant to talk about Dease to Morf.
  • Respected by the Respected: A painter version, Piers and Damrish, an Old Master and a hot rising star respectively, are both awestruck by Dease's work.
  • Retired Badass: Rhodora is a former rock star-turned-gallery owner.
  • Rule of Three: Three times, Coco seeks new employment only to find her new boss's corpse the next morning. The third time it happens, with Mort, she sounds more frustrated than horrified at this point as she screams "FUCK ME!"
  • Running Gag: Coco getting hired and showing up the next day to find her new boss dead, often while carrying coffee. It happens THREE TIMES. At the end she just loses it.
  • Sanity Slippage: Morf's mental state deteriorates as people start to die.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Dease's paintings want to be destroyed as per the wishes of their creator. The problem is that theirs means to do it to themselves are limited. Plus, Dease created thousands of them.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Rhodora after Morf dies and she’s almost killed.
  • Slashed Throat: Rhodora is killed by the buzzsaw tattoo on the back of her neck when it comes to life.
  • Slasher Movie: The film's structure is comparable to that of Final Destination, which follows a group of characters as they're all killed by a single supernatural force one-by-one, rather than a physical person or thing. However, Velvet Buzzsaw is explicitly supernatural with disembodied body parts and possessed objects, while Final Destination focuses on freak accidents that could happen in real life.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Piers has no problem saying that Jon was his usual shallow self the last time they spoke, after Jon's apparent suicide.
  • Spooky Painting: Dease's artwork tends to fall into this category. The fact that some of them were painted with blood doesn't help.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Ruskinspear, the private detective.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sure, Gretchen. Stick your Hand in the Hole of the huge, ominous, metallic sphere when no one else is around, something could malfunction with the art piece and you could easily get trapped there all night even without the murderous art demon. What could go wrong?
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: The success and fame that selling Dease's art grants her, causes the once earnest and sympathetic Josephina to become increasingly shallow and cruel. Coco tries to do the same by trading insider information and jumping from ship to ship, but the corpses of all her employers trip up her journey towards true cutthroat Femme Fatale-dom.
    • Gretchen also claims to have started out as more idealistic before realizing that there was no use in fighting against the mega-collectors gobbling up most of the art, at which point she jumped onboard with them.
  • Tragic Villain: Dease is the source of the murderous force infesting the paintings and he personally killed at least two people while he was alive, but his childhood was atrocious and he spent several years as a prisoner in a mental institution that inflicted horrific medical experiments on him and his fellow patients.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A couple of art patrons give this to Morf after Ricky's suicide attempt following Morf's bad review with one of them also adding that she enjoyed his show, and what she saw bore no resemblance to what Morf wrote about.
  • Wish-Fulfillment: One of the earlier Dease paintings shown tragically depicts a little boy successfully (and improbably) overpowering an abusive father to protect his sister, a piece clearly inspired by his own abusive upbringing.


Video Example(s):


Gretchen's Arm

Gretchen's arm is cut off by an interactive sculpture and she bleeds out until she dies.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnArmAndALeg

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