Picture a Hollywood noir film, that is an homage to Hitchcock through the mind of David Lynch, and that’s kind of what you get with Under the Silver Lake. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, who rose to prominence with his indie horror flick It Follows, Silver Lake follows Andrew Garfield’s Sam, an out-of-work douchebag who is intrigued by Sarah (Riley Keough), a neighbor in his apartment complex who goes missing the day after he meets her. Oh, there’s also a serial dog killer, a naked Owl Lady, a piano man responsible for every song in the history of pop music, and even that is still barely scratching the surface.
It’s really difficult to review a film like this that is as frustrating as it is intriguing. It’s not perfect by any means, and downright offensive in some regards, and yet I’ve been thinking about long after I’ve seen it. It seems like a distant cousin to Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, a divisive film that crumbled under the weight of its oversimplified metaphors. I think nearly everything in this movie is merely a metaphor as well, but there are at least real characters to latch onto, at least kind of. While Garfield’s Sam is both unreliable narrator (thankfully there’s no VO, but we are seeing the story through his POV), and passive protagonist, Garfield gives him an almost undeserved warmth and humanity. I cared what happened to him, even as I realized that nothing I was seeing was quite as it was.
Mitchell is likely still in the first phase of his career. Coming after his big win, I imagine this was his shot at getting both a decent budget and final cut. There’s a tremendous grace with the cinematography and with visuals that are constantly serving to give us clues or serve as homages, often at the same time, it’s impressive that the movie doesn’t struggle with that. I liken this movie is his Magnolia. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson followed up his masterpiece Boogie Nights, with his fever dream Magnolia, that was an interesting failure notable for truly tremendous performances but also an overwhelming excess. Thankfully, he went on to create better movies, and I expect Mitchell will as well, but it’s still interesting what someone can do when they are all but unhinged and unchecked, and yet, the film still completely falls apart at one point. It’s a movie that tries to make a point about the exploitation of women in Hollywood, by being a completely exploitative film in Hollywood. There are some truly uncomfortable and unnecessary moments, and there are stupefying moments that don’t make sense, and are never revisited, but still form a piece of movie that is satisfied being nothing but a puzzle that you will struggle to put together, and won’t necessarily enjoy the final picture, but will have appreciated the struggle nonetheless.
I expect this movie will have a lot of people viewing it as one of their favorites. And still others will really, truly hate it. I was somewhere in the middle, but willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, whether deserved or not, for being something truly individual.
My Grade – B-