Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Grace Van Patten
Country: USA
Running time: 140 minutes
Year: 2019
BBFC Certificate: 15

Under The Silver Lake is a modern Hollywood film, that manages to exude a timeless cool. Critics call the genre neo-noir (mystery), but this film is not dark, but rather colourful and bright like a psychedelic pop art painting. The film starts with a quirky, odd feeling, almost like a surreal advert. The central character is Sam (Andrew Garfield), a seemingly care-free slacker, who is about to be evicted from his Los Angeles poolside condominium for failing to pay the rent. He is a generation Y cliche, with a poster of Kurt Cobain on his bedroom wall, beer or cannabis joint always in hand, alongside an ingrained obsession with conspiracy theories and wanting to reveal hidden codes. The words ‘Beware of the Dog Killer’ are painted in bold letters on the window of the local diner, and every cool hipster is living in fear their pooch will be the next to be hit. The pooch being the signifier of 21st-century unconditional love.

I found it hard to know what to make of the production of this film, all the actors are so good looking, yet so unconvincing, it was as if this was an intended effect. The references in the atmosphere, the cinematography, and the scripting are so derivative; Alfred Hitchcock (especially Vertigo [1958]), David Lynch, David Cronenberg, the Cohen Brothers, but perhaps most unashamedly Robert Altman (many scenes and characters in the film seem to be directly lifted from Altman’s take on Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled  novel, The Long Goodbye [1973]).

The director does well to quickly build layers of oddness and uncertainty; characters persecuted by squirrels, a famous billionaire who goes missing, a satanic rock band named Jesus & The Brides of Dracula, who may hold the answer to the dog murders, and a mysterious woman living in Sam’s apartment block, Sarah (Riley Keough), whom he spots in the apartment block’s swimming pool, leading to an immediate infatuation. They have a brief encounter, but the next day Sarah and her two room mates vacate the apartment. Sam’s head is left spinning, with a lot of questions to be answered, he becomes a kind of private detective, trying to solve these and many other riddles. He decides to seek the advice of an local underground comic book author (Patrick Fischier) who has written the comic Under The Silver Lake. The comic book author is even more obsessed with conspiracy than Sam, and the comic book (story within a story) may hold answers to many of the conspiracies and riddles preoccupying Sam.

The plot of the film becomes increasingly surreal and complex, with an expanding list of characters and situations that may or may not hold answers to the riddles, or may in fact invite further riddles to be solved. Hats off to the director of the film, this is cleverly done. My one major gripe is the film had an over all feeling of narcism and naffness, for example one scene where Sam meets a character described as Balloon Girl (Grace Van Patten) at a night club, they get to talking about the riddles, and then make a sudden decision to dance to a song by R.E.M. After a bit of voguing on the dance floor, very Pulp Fiction (1994), they then soon leave the club to have sex; but who wants to have sex after listening to R.E.M.! Other scenes in the film such as Sam waking in the middle of the night to see a kaiyote outside his apartment, and then deciding to follow the kaiyote, walking the empty Hollywood night time streets in his pyjamas. It’s like a bad episode of The Simpsons. The plot becomes more and more complex, more and more characters, more and more references to Hollywood’s past, willing the concept of a buried Hollywood cabal who interface with an alternative omnipotent spiritual domain. Sam’s stoned mind making sense of it all with the aid of back of cereal packet puzzles, and nintendo games station narratives.

I am sure many viewers will love this film, and it has ‘cult following’ written all over it. I personally found the film too lacking in originality, over referencing Hollywood’s past. I much preferred the directors previous film, It Follows (2014), which has it’s own original atmosphere and approach, in my view in direct contrast to Under The Silver Lake. However, what I will say is the film is intriguing, and I will no doubt watch it again, hopefully with a reduced sense of irritation.

Extras: Q&A with Andrew Garfield at Prince Charles Cinema

‘What Lies Under the Silver Lake’ Featurette

‘Beautiful Specter’ Featurette

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE will be released on UK DVD & Blu ray by MUBI on 26 August 2019

Under The Silver Lake
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