"...a deliriously fun ride for most of its duration..."

A Possible Cult Classic in the Making

(090619) Under the Silver Lake is a compelling postmodern neo noir about a missing person case that leads to a huge conspiracy. It is somewhat reminiscent of the works of Alfred Hitchcock as well as Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, and any films or shows that depict a village, town or city as a magnet for weirdness and or as a cesspool for hidden corruption.

The film is David Robert Mitchell’s long awaited follow-up to the excellent horror film, It Follows (2014) about characters that are pursued by a sinister demon. Under the Silver Lake is closer in tone to a paranoid detective film, but it has many surreal and supernatural elements. The film is far more ambitious but less solid and consistent than its predecessor.

The film’s studio apparently did not seem to have much confidence that this offbeat film would find an audience, and they kept postponing its release. Under the Silver Lake had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 15, 2018. In France, it was released on August 8 of that year, followed by Belgium on August 15. The film was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on June 22, 2018, but it was pushed back several times to April 19, 2019 where it had a very short theatrical run. It finally came out in June 18, 2019 on DVD

Under the Silver Lake is anchored by a fine performance by the British actor, Andrew Garfield who earned accolades for playing the lead in Amazing Spiderman and an Oscar nomination for his stunning performance in Hacksaw Ridge (in my opinion this was his peak performance so far). Under the Silver Moon is unlikely to get him as much recognition or a second nomination because the Oscar voters would probably find this film too weird and/or meta-fictional.

Garfield plays Sam, a millennial tech savvy sleuth who is only somewhat hard boiled. Emily Yoshida, writing for Vulture, perfectly describes our hero: “He’s Phillip Marlowe if Phillip Marlowe spent way more time on Reddit.” Sam comes to believe that the world is filled with secret codes, plus subliminal messages and he will do anything during his weird odyssey to prove it.

Garfield is ably assisted by one of the reigning Indy goddesses, Riley Keogh who showed great promise in such films as Steve Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, and Lars von Trier’s The House that Jack Built as a gorgeous but elusive neighbor. There is something appropriately unreal about how Keough plays the role.

The film’s main characters are reminiscent of the protagonists in Rear Window and Body Double. Garfield’s Sam sits silently and obsessively observing his neighbors with his binoculars. He especially likes to watch an older woman who prances around topless in her apartment with her pet parrots.

Sam is a total embodiment of what feminist critics (including Hitchcock scholar, Laura Mulvey) would call the male gaze. It is not always clear if the film is sending up the Hollywood objectification of women or if it is complicit in it. I have a hunch it is both.

But Sam’s favorite subject to watch is the attractive female neighbor that he observes through the Venetian blinds of his apartment (played by Riley Keough). She is completely image obsessed and driven by nostalgia. She seems to be as hurt by Hollywood’s preoccupation with artifice as Sam.

She dresses like she just walked out of How to Marry a Millionaire, and her apartment is a Hollywood shrine filled with Marilyn Monroe images. One day, Sam’s dream comes true and he actually meets her, and they have a memorable life changing night (for him at least) getting stoned and talking about pop culture. Their relationship and much of the film seems to be sending up the superficiality of the Hollywood worship of pop culture

The next day she vanishes without warning and her whole apartment is cleared out. He goes on a long journey to find her, and he seems as obsessed with her as the main character is with the dead girl in Laura.

He finds that that Silver Lake is even stranger than he imagines. He encounters a band called Brides of Dracula (which ties into the film’s obsession with threes) that is somehow connected to the woman’s disappearance, as well as a trendy religious cult, and a kind of owl faced succubus or dream demon. Also he learns that Silver Lake is occupied with ghosts of its past inhabitants. Sam also keeps getting sprayed by a skunk but incredibly none of the people at the parties he goes to can figure out where the terrible smell is coming from.

Although the script is highly inventive and chock full of ideas, it also something of a mess. Sometimes the film maker just seems to be throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks (Sorry to Bother You, which was a bit better, also sometimes felt like this). But most of Under the Silver Lake worked well for me.

In the end, the film does not quite come together in a way that satisfactorily wraps up all the disparate strands in the narrative, but it is still a deliriously fun ride for most of its duration. Viewers who are looking for something different should seek it out. It may be a cult classic in the making.

Directed & Written by:   David Robert Mitchell
Starring:   Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace
DVD Release:   061819
Length:   139 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language throughout and some drug use

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org
and www.chicagopoetry.org plus look for his recent book Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor.

SUNDER THE SILVER LAKE ©  2019 Vendian Entertainment
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.