This is the Netflix film written and directed by Dan Gilroy (director of Nightcrawler). The Velvet Buzzsaw cast includes a long list of popular actors – Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, and John Malkovich to name a few. The Velvet Buzzsaw sundance premier happened in January 2019, and the movie belongs to the genre of horror. It’s interesting how the fright is presented in the film. Usually, a scary flick puts the entire emphasis on the paranormal event, and the characters are either caught in it or trying to fight/stop it. Velvet Buzzsaw has a lot more going on as far as the main plot is concerned and meets the supernatural side of things a while later. The film is pretty straight-forward, so let’s get down to business right away. Here’s the explanation to the plot and ending of the movie Velvet Buzzsaw; spoilers ahead.
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There is a pretty significant message the film drives home – the value of an artist is measured by the money that can be made from selling his/her art, and the people who are in charge of selling them are, many a time, art-morons. To add to this, we have critics who have either sold their souls or have no clue what they are talking about yet have the power to control the market. A great analogy would be the film world today. You have many struggling film-makers, and dozens of films are released on various platforms. Audiences use critics’ opinions to make a decision whether or not to watch a movie. Year on year, amazing films go unnoticed either because the distributor doesn’t want to promote it or a set of critics choose to score it poorly because they are too busy going gaga over some other film that makes critique portfolio look good. The same applies to the music industry as well. In a nutshell, Velvet Buzzsaw is set in a world where the people who abuse their power meet with a gory demise.
Velvet Buzzsaw Plot Synopsis: Characters and Context
Piers (John) and Damrish are the only artists in the film. Piers’ is someone who could produce sell-worthy art when he was a drunkard. After he decides to go sober, he’s developed a creative block. Damrish is from an underground art movement and is entering the high-profile world of art.
Morf Vandewalt (Jake) is a highly respected art-critic. Rhodora Haze (Rene) is the owner of Haze Gallery; she sells art. Gretchen (Toni), a former artist, is currently an art curator for a museum and has recently decided to become an art advisor for a wealthy person. Josephina (Zawe) works for Rhodora and is a young woman striving to make it big. What is common between these four is that while they might have entered the art industry for the right reasons, over time they have let their greed make decisions for them.
Velvet Buzzsaw: Hoboman
The film opens in an art exhibition where we are shown Morf passing through. Cloudio, an artist, has displayed his work, Hoboman, which is a satire presented as a superhero without limbs. Hoboman symbolizes an old homeless person who was once a person of great use (such as a railroad constructor) who eventually became homeless. To represent, Hoboman says stuff like “Have you ever felt invisible?” and “Once, I built a railroad”. Morf is condescending and tells Cloudio that there is no originality and no courage, even though Hoboman has been getting a good response at the exhibition. Eventually, Morf publishes a terrible review of Hoboman, and it leads to the art’s death.
Morf Vandewalt is a bumbling critic
At the exhibition, Gretchen meets Morf to ask about one of Piers painting. Assuming that the work is current Morf mentions that sobriety hasn’t done well for Piers. Gretchen says that the art is 15 years old when Piers was at the peak of his alcoholism. So you see, Morf is not critiquing the painting, he’s saying something is good or bad based on the knowledge of Piers’ creative block and alcoholism. The conclusion is, if it was done during his drunkard days, it must be fantastic, here’s 5 million for it.
Velvet Buzzsaw: Sphere
This piece of art is a large metallic sphere with holes. Based on who you are and which hole you stick your hand in, it creates a unique sensation. There are a few moving parts inside the sphere, but most of the feeling is all in the person’s head. The art has a unique sell value. Morf is instantly happy to write a positive review.
Who is Jon Dondon in Velvet Buzzsaw?
Piers’ has recently decided to leave Rhodora and move to Jon Dondon to have his art represented. Jon comes across evidently as someone who’s well known in the art circles to make sells but is a complete art-moron. He uses “cutting-edge analytics” to maximize “deal flow and global demand”. You know the kind.
Wait, what is the meaning of Velvet Buzzsaw?
A long time ago, Rhodora was part of a Punk Rock band called the Velvet Buzzsaw. While the initial days were excellent and true to the music, the group split because their music was no longer appreciated. Rhodora has a tattoo on her back which is, well, a velvet buzzsaw. Why the film is called that is perhaps because velvet is soft and buzzsaw can cut through hard materials. The characters in the film who are market makers are not artists. All of them have, at the core of it, a soft skill that they use to influence the art market (reviews, networking, personal relationship, etc). But the effect this has on the artists is devastating and cuts like a knife, or better yet, a buzzsaw.
Who is Damrish?
Damrish is a street artist who’s suddenly getting the attention of Jon Dondon and Rhodora because they feel they can make a killing by selling his art. He eventually takes Rhodora’s deal to display his art.
Morf and Josephina
Morf is bisexual and has recently broken up with his boyfriend, Ed. Josephina’s boyfriend has been cheating on her. The two of them decide it is best if they enter a physical relationship.
Velvet Buzzsaw: What is Rhodora’s arrangement with Morf?
While Morf doesn’t know this, his ex-boyfriend Ed is paid by Rhodora to give her heads up on positive reviews that Morf was going to publish (everyone in this film is in a superficial relationship). Based on this, she would buy the art ahead of his review, and once she owned it, Morf’s review would cause the price of the art to skyrocket.
Velvet Buzzsaw: What is Gretchen’s relationship with Morf?
Gretchen is shown to be a close acquaintance of Morf’s who’s leaving her job at the museum to become an art advisor for the person who’s bought the Sphere for 7 million. She’s going to be quite wealthy. She’s noticed that the artwork that Rhodora purchases invariably lands a positive review from Morf. Quite naturally she assumes there is a monetary arrangement between them and Gretchen offers money to Morf to give her a heads up before he published positive reviews. Remember, Morf has no clue that Ed has been selling his reviews behind his back, and so, Morf is appalled by the very idea.
Who is Bryson in Velvet Buzzsaw?
He’s a self-proclaimed artist who works for Rhodora. He’s nosey and you know he’s probably going to be the first one to die.
Velvel Buzzsaw: Who is Coco?
Coco works for Rhodora too as her personal assistant. She moves to do freelance back-office work because Rhodora fires her.
Now that we’re done with all the living characters and their dynamics let’s get to the crux of the film …
Velvet Buzzsaw: Who is the artist Vetril Dease?
Okay, so first off, Dease is not an artist. When he was a child, he lived in a low-income home with his parents and sister. After a few years, he and his father are listed as the only survivors of a suspicious fire which swept their house. As a child, he was abused by his father and hence grows up in an orphanage. After that, he was drafted in the army for two years. Finally, he snapped and went hunting for his father, found him, and tortured him to death. After that Dease was taken to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Now this place ended up using him for medical experiments for 20 years – injections, shocks, and God knows what else. The courts eventually closed the hospital and Dease was finally released. After that Dease lived off the grid working the veterans home where he allegedly killed his supervisor for being rude to him.
Now, as you can see, Dease is not really the artistic type. However, he pours all of his vengeance and hatred into artwork using his own blood for that perfect shade of red. What Dease creates is a set of paintings dripping with retribution. I believe what he created was so evil, that he realizes that this is probably pretty bad for the world. Dease sets up an instruction in his house that these paintings need to be destroyed. He even tries to burn some of them. I believe that his own art takes his life. It’s like a really messed up person transferring all of his evil into a set of paintings and the dude left behind is killed off by that very evil.
Dease’s paintings are found, everyone wants a piece
Josephina finds Dease
Dease cat leads Josephina to his house after his death, and she finds all of his paintings which she takes. She shows them to Morf who is “ensorcelled” by the work.
Bryson wants to steal Dease
Bryson finds some of the paintings at Josephina’s desk. He presses her to give up where she got the art. When she doesn’t yield, Bryson tells on her (to Rhodora). Bryson has an eye on those paintings and wants to get his hands on a few.
Rhodora wants to sell Dease
Rhodora shows up at Josephina’s house threatening her to give up the artist and the source of the artwork. The two of them shake hands on selling it and getting rich. Rhodora is now planning to hide a set of Dease’s painting and sell the rest, this way she can increase the demand and hence the price. She asks Bryson transport it but doesn’t tell him what’s in the boxes.
Morf wants to write Dease
Morf uses fancy phrases like “a metamorphosis of spirit into reality” with no clue what’s in store for him, but finally says he wants the rights to the book and a part of the artwork for him to cash out on it. Later, Morf uses his power to give a terrible review of Josephina’s ex-boyfriend’s (Ricky) work because she asks. As a result, Ricky gets drunk and crashes his car and goes into a coma. Morf also begins doing research on Dease’s life for his book. He finds out from forensics that the paintings have actual blood in them.
Gretchen wants to buy Dease
Gretchen tells Rhodora about her new client and makes a deal with her to buy some Damrish’s work and then a few Dease. She arm-twists her ex-museum folks to showcase the art owned by her new employer. She promises them Dease’s work but in return wants the showcase to be immediate and also wants them to display the Sphere.
Jon Dondon wants to diminish Dease
Jon Dondon, who now represents Piers, goes to meet him. Right here we are shown Jon quick to stop and admire a bunch of garbage bags assuming it’s artwork. Jon is as bad as middle-men come, they sell art and artists in the worst possible fashion. I think this alone warrants a death by Dease. He ends up hiring Coco because she has insights into who have purchased Dease’s work. Jon hires someone to collect background information on Dease. His move is to release that to the press to diminish the value of the paintings.
Josephina has been working with Rhodora to sell Dease’s artwork. She is done seeing Morf and moves on to Damrish who she fancies for the sake of his artwork and the money she can make out of that. Also, a booty call wouldn’t be too bad, she feels.
Velvet Buzzsaw: Deaths
Dease’s art has the power to create illusions and animate items from the painting and the real world to perform the fatalities.
Bryson gets taken by grease monkeys
As promised, Bryson is the first to go. He suspects the contents of the boxes he’s been asked to transport and has a peek. Bryson finds Dease’s work and steals a few for himself. The cigarette ash sets the painting on fire and he crashes into an abandoned gas station. Now, this gas station might be real, but the art inside with the monkeys just shows up from nowhere. After that, the monkeys come to life and attack Bryson. We aren’t shown, but I believe he’s sucked into the painting to become art for life.
Rhodora assumes Bryson has run away with the paintings.
Jon Dondon gets tied up
The night before Jon plans to go to press, the projector in his office comes on, and we see a few frames of Dease’s face. Jon’s surroundings change and is locked inside the area which was otherwise open moments ago. As he’s drawn to a flickering bulb a hand shows up from nowhere and hangs Jon to death by his tie. Coco, poor Coco, finds her new employer’s dead body the next morning.
She moves on to work with Gretchen. Piers has a talk with Rhodora after this, and she offers him her beach house so he can get away from the art world and remove his creative block. He takes the offer. This is actually sweet of her but is minuscule in comparison to her greed.
Gretchen, it costs her an arm
The night before her client’s art display, Gretchen is prancing about the museum and decides to try out the sphere. We can see the eyes coming to life in Dease’s paintings. In a display of lights, screams and fine blood mists, Gretchen’s hand is severed right off. She falls to the floor and bleeds to death. What’s more, the next day the exhibition opens and people think her blood and body are part of the showcase. Children start stomping on her blood until Coco shows up, poor Coco. She howls her lungs out seeing the bloody sight.
Josephina calls Rhodora to tell her the news about Gretchen. But she’s also excited to say how Dease’s artwork was being mobbed, and it’s a massive hit. After that, she bangs Damrish and dumps Morf. Morf goes to a sound exhibit to critique it. When in the soundproof room, he begins to hear all of his negative career-ending reviews he’s jammed upon artists. He goes to Rhodora and tells her that the paintings are cursed and all the deaths are connected to them, and pleads to not sell them. He says that he’s going to be publishing an article explaining Dease’s painting methods and the related deaths, and also asks Josephina to stop selling Dease. They don’t listen to Morf.
Josephina becomes street art
Damrish and Josephina head out to a pub, and he tells her that he’ll be leaving Rhodora to go back to his underground art movement. He is faithful to art and doesn’t want to involve himself in high society art exhibitions. Josephina leaves but notices her car is trapped in the parking lot; she calls for a tow-truck. Her phone hangs with one of Dease’s art. The area behind her turns into a gallery. She’s drawn towards it and enters. When inside, her phone resumes working and she calls Rhodora to tell her about Damrish while not noticing that the paint from all the paintings around her are making their way to her. The different colours enter her, and soon she becomes part of a graffiti on the wall.
Morf gets to do the twist
Morf hires Coco to catalog a few things. At his storage facility, Morf is visited by none other than Hoboman, the artwork that collects dust thanks to his spiteful review. Morf understands that he’s been merely shooting out a barrage of adjectives as an excuse for art reviews. He understands how his being so full of himself kills good art. He understands that his greed suppresses good artists from shining. But Hoboman doesn’t care, it’s not about the critic Morf intends to become, it’s the critic he has been so far. In a swift crack, Hoboman snaps Morf’s neck and kills him. Next morning Coco shows up, poor Coco.
Rhodora goes through the grind
Rhodora is finally beginning to get affected by one of the paintings of Dease in her house. She takes it down. She has a narrow miss and just escapes a falling artwork. Next morning she learns about Morf and is convinced that the paintings are evil. She has her house cleared of all artwork and basks in the sun feeling free of the evil only to become the exact scene of the Dease’s painting she took down. The velvet buzzsaw on her shoulder begins to spin and grinds right through her, killing her.
That about concludes most of the kills that Dease has for the ruthless folk who try to benefit from his art. In a nutshell, in life or death, Dease kills people who abuse their position of power. His father was an adult abusing a child. His boss was a supervisor using his power to abuse Dease. The people we see die in the art world are all ones with power, misusing it to abuse good art. Which brings us to that very end.
Velvet Buzzsaw Ending Explained
Damrish is safe
He loathes the high society art culture and the general abuse of artists. That’s why he goes back to his underground art movement. Which also ensures that he’ll get to keep his life.
Piers is at the beach
He ends up being far from all of the Dease fiasco and is in Rhodora’s beach house. Piers is free and is enjoying drawing curves on the sands by the beach, and he is engaged in the moment. Piers doesn’t care for the outcome, he doesn’t care that the waves are washing his lines away. He understands that art is transient and is apparently finding himself. He too gets to keep his life.
I’m in love with the Coco
Poor Coco, she loses it after finding the dead bodies of all her bosses. She doesn’t die because she’s only been part of the Dease’s artwork indirectly. Importantly, she’s not abused anyone or anything. So she’s safe for the moment.
Coco has had it with all the dead bodies, she’s leaving town. Just then she sees a street side sale of the artwork of Dease that was in Bryson’s truck. Someone has found it and is selling it for a mere $5. Are the sellers and buyers all going to die? Well, it all depends on the intention. If anyone in contact with the art has been abusive, they are going to die. The first buyer seems genuinely interested in the art and purchases it.
In a small but sure way, Dease has helped to make it a better world.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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