I really wanted to rate “Under the Silver Lake” a higher rating, in fact there is a lot to love about the film. It is technically marvelous, aesthetically rich, beautifully shot, and Andrew Garfield once again delivers a raw and layered performance of a likable anti-hero loser. The problem with the film is how meandering and tedious it gets, by the time you get to the big reveals of the enigmatic puzzle going on, it doesn’t feel all too revealing or even exciting. In fact if runs its coarse well into the 90 mins mark. In fact the films ideas just feel like rehashes from old Alex Jones or David Ike videos you would see from 12 years ago, you know the crazy conspiracy theory guys who have informed us years ago that Hollywood and the media are controlled by an outside establishment who’s main goal is to control the human population how to consume and think with symbolical messages and codes.
The films first half is much more successful and indeed very engrossing, then it takes too many detours into poor visual gags, desperate humor, and poorly comedic caricatures. The way women are depicted in the film is a little questionable too, the way the women are sexualized to an extreme is almost a self-parody of the “male gaze”, perhaps that is the point of it all, but its one of those things like Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” that wants to have its cake and eat it too. Where writer-director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) wants to show Hollywood as a place that demeans women, as he does the exact same thing.
Despite a few of these faults you can’t deny just how fascinating and engrossing the film really is. The film is almost like a mix of a modern version of Raymond Chandler, think a modern version of Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” meets P.T. Anderson’s “Inherit Vice”, with a touch of Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” and even Lynchian surrealism. The film is filled with dense ideas, convoluted loose ends on the mystery, and of course off-beat characters, however like “Inherit Vice” it leaves you frustrated , however the idiosyncratic characters don’t come off as fascinating or as compelling as they do in “Inherit Vice”. Overall this is a film that is highly watchable and enjoyable, and I might come around to it more on a repeat viewing.
This is Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to his well-crafted but uneven 2014 horror film “It Follows”, which was both a critical and commercial success. The film is bolder, holds more scope, and feels grandeur in scale, but it also loses holds on self-control. However, Mitchell’s touch behind the camera is very confident, you can sense that he is a large disciple of David Lynch and P.T. Anderson. Mitchell certainly uses a lot of wide-beautifully composed wide shots of LA that create the mood of the city, and the score by Disasterpiece is very memorable.
The film is about an unemployed loser named Sam (Andrew Garfield) who lives a lot like the Dude in “The Big Lebowski”. He ends up getting obsessed with secret codes hidden in pop culture, and he ends up taking an interest to his neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) in the swimming pool and becomes very drawn into her. Sam in many ways ends up becoming a self-made gumshoe like James Stewart’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and even Brian De Palma’s “Body Double”. She ends up inviting him over, they smoke pot together, and flirt with each other until they are interrupted by Sarah’s roommates. When he returns the next day to visit her, she has completely vanished, with all of furniture and belongings completely gone.
Sam begins his own investigations that involves drifting through a surreal Los Angeles that takes him down a journey of dead billionaires, old cereal boxes that old clues, night parties, a Vampire rock band, a maestro who is the hidden creator of all hit billboard songs, and he encounters with many beautiful women that want to sleep with him, even after being sprayed by a skunk.
In many ways “Under the Silver Lakes” has artistic failure written all over it, it certainly bites off more than it can chew, and it holds no restraint what so over. Its a long movie with many characters, in which David Robert Mitchell refused to cut the film down any longer from its 139 mins running time for distributor A24, however you can’t deny how ambitious and engrossing the film really is.
Casting Garfield is a great idea, Andrew Garfield proves to be one of the greatest younger actors working today, yet he brings so much layers, raw emotions, and alienation to the character that you can’t help root for him. The film leaves off with a dissatisfying conclusion, but there is enough memorable and fascinating moments in the film making it an essential viewing. Film critic Pauline Kael once wrote that “Great movies are rarely perfect movies”, and this could apply to something like “Under the Silver Lake”, which is far from great, it has a lot of vulgar and silly bumps, some ridiculous twists that don’t necessarily always work, and the film has a long running time, and it doesn’t feel completely successful. Still, there is so much to admire and enjoy in this film from a young director who holds a unique visual and impressive visual style who believes that artistry, ambiguity, and tone can carry a film a long way.