This is all heavy-handed and one-dimensional, but the introduction of the horror plotline at least holds out brief hope that the tone will shift. Haze’s colleague, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), discovers a trove of artworks in a recently deceased neighbor’s apartment. The artist, named Ventril Dease—the screenwriter was clearly on a Thomas Pynchon kick—had demanded that all of his works be destroyed upon his death. Josephina has other plans, of course. She sees marketable genius in the unremarkable canvases, which, frankly, hypnotize everyone who glances at them. “Visionary,” Vandewalt declares. “Mesmeric.” Josephina is practically hyperventilating: “Do you think there’s a market?” “Massive,” the critic pronounces.
If you haven’t guessed yet, these are no ordinary paintings—they’re haunted paintings. Collectors go apeshit over them after a blockbuster debut at Rhodora Haze’s gallery. Everyone is happily making money off the morally questionable ordeal…until people start dying, one by one. (Oh, and an expert analysis of Dease’s works uncovers the fact that they were painted using—wait for it—human blood.)
It’s here that Velvet Buzzsaw evolves into something akin to Final Destination: Art World Edition, but with less inventive dispatchings. A young gallerist ends up murdered by Dease’s vile spirit, hung by his own florid necktie. Gretchen sticks her arm into Sphere only to find that it’s become a high-end wood chipper. An art handler transporting some Dease pieces to a storage facility drives off the road, crashing into an eerie and abandoned gas station with an unsubtle name: Humble. Despite the carnage, Vandewalt remains above the fray, for a little while. At the funeral for one of Dease’s victims, he snarkily critiques the music and the color of the coffin. (“That’s my job,” he shrugs. “I’m selective.”) But he’s ultimately fated to die, as is practically every other cardboard character.