Under the Silver Lake

Gotta make time to soak up that vitamin D
5/10 - A bizarre plot and barrage of film references makes Under the Silver Lake hard to enjoy.
Release Date: 
Friday, March 15, 2019
Written by: 

Under the Silver Lake follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), a man who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy while setting out to find out what happened to his young love interest.


With such an unassuming title, you could be forgiven for believing Under the Silver Lake is a cute animation or big-budget adventure flick.

However, David Robert Mitchell's third feature, the follow-up to critically-acclaimed 2014 horror It Follows, doesn't slot into any genre - and in fact, turns out to be a frenetic post-modernistic collage of tropes and film references merged into a 139-minute runtime.

Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles, the narrative follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), a lazy and jobless 33-year-old, who is insinuated to be an aspiring screenwriter.

While we never find out how he makes money, he's obsessed with popular culture, as evidenced by the stacks of comic books, vintage Playboy magazines, retro video games, Nirvana memorabilia and a Rear Window poster strewn throughout his apartment.

But Sam's life is thrown into chaos when he meets and develops a crush on his new neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough), with sparks beginning to fly as they view 1953 Marilyn Monroe vehicle How to Marry a Millionaire together, only for him to awaken the next day to find out that the young woman has unceremoniously ditched him and disappeared into the night.

Stunned that his ideal girl would have the audacity to leave, and determined to find out what happened to her, Sam embarks on a quest to find Sarah, while simultaneously becoming preoccupied with a zine titled Under the Silver Lake, which features a storyline that mirrors real events that have recently occurred in his neighbourhood, such as a string of brutal murders of pet dogs.

With the plot drawing on noirs extending all the way from Kiss Me Deadly to Mulholland Drive, Sam adopts a detective-like persona which leads him to following strangers in his car and interviewing Comic Fan (Patrick Fischler), an acquaintance who is obsessed with conspiracy theories, with the chat forcing him to follow a series of clues hidden in songs and monuments in the murkiest depths of the City of Angels.

His journey is punctuated by pitstops at underground tunnels, seedy Hollywood parties, with one featuring Balloon Girl (Grace Van Patten), as well as encounters with reclusive songwriters, wealthy socialites and the Homeless King (David Yow), though the mystery really ramps up when Sam connects Sarah to the shock death of billionaire mogul Jefferson Sevence.

Yes, there's a lot going on in Under the Silver Lake, but Mitchell's central preoccupation is with exploring hidden meaning and the secret codes of society, with the mise-en-scene so tightly crammed with imagery that even the most dedicated viewer will have issue unpacking it all in one go.

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis does a great job at capturing the nuances of the setting, with the drama heightened by Disasterpeace's spot-on score.

A shaggy-haired Garfield throws himself into the role and seems to particularly relish the wilder moments.

Yet, as he's the focus of just about every shot, it's easy to become weary of watching this average white male fumble his way through life.

And while Mitchell attempts to critique the often-difficult lives of women attempting to break into the entertainment industry, this falls flat due to the pervasive male gaze, with most of the actresses appearing topless or in skimpy clothing at one time or another, and even Keough is constantly objectified in the brief amount of time she is onscreen.

In the end, Under the Silver Lake poses many more questions than answers - which is probably exactly what the director wanted.

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