Rating: 2 out of 5
I did not like Under the Silver Lake. Alas, three days after viewing, it remains the only film occupying all things cinematic in my mind. Directed by It Follows stalwart, David Robert Mitchell, this absolutely bonkers neo-noir charts a decidedly jagged path across and under the sun-drenched Los Angeles streets. It’s not particularly good yet it’s a must watch. So rare is the auteur effort that fails as spectacularly as this one. Whether It Follows satisfied your offbeat horror thirst or not, Under the Silver Lake is a different beast altogether. Obviously the product of a dense, vivid and scattered imagination; there are more mysteries than the film can keep up with, a tangle of threads that the filmmakers found themselves so exhausted with by the end that any grip they had on the narrative turned to smithereens before their and our very eyes.
Considering the budget and the controversy over a “second cut” following its premiere at Cannes, a film like this slipping through the cracks of the odd middle ground between A24 and Hollywood is extremely uncanny. It’s a cult classic for people who really enjoy finding new “cult classics” to enjoy but don’t enjoy drawing sharp enough blades for any critiques or indictments made therein to cut deep. The meaning is seemingly layered and multifaceted, even contradictory, and it never stops saying things, it’s a breathless exercise in auteurism and vision, fresh off the presses and always getting ahead of itself, at once like so many other stoned LA misadventures in conspiracy and yet hazily apart from them in the falsity of it’s incoherence, disingenuous in all but execution which might be the point.
LA is phony. It’s fake. The culture is dead and was perhaps never alive. People are vapid, vain, hollow, and high. Everyone is in a rush to get further nowhere, cause no matter where you go, you’re still in Los Angeles. All of this has been said before in many fancy words from Joyce Carol Oates to Tarantino, derided, romanticized and exposed in equal measure. Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a schmuck who watches his neighbors from his balcony with a pair of binoculars (an homage amongst many that ultimately add up to nothing), equally obsessed with invading the privacy of women as he is with decoding satanic messages in pop songs.
There are attempts made to analyze his characters’ toxicity and the implicit privilege of his lifestyle is never spoken about in subtext, much less verbalized but is nevertheless unavoidable. There is a possibility Mitchell might have been trying to say something here about the schlub protagonist’s of midnight stoner-noirs like Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski, their striking ability to be both slacker and sexpot. Garfield is no Bridges, however, and he’s certainly no Joaquin, he lacks the repressed manic energy and the overwhelming feeling of disenfranchisement required for a role like this. His performance is ultimately a testament to the film’s commitment to itself. He never quite manifests the same level of vitality as the sheer insanity of the narrative and as a result, the film is all the stranger for it, not necessarily better, but his rather conventional acting range (BIG EMOTIONS) in response to inexplicable levels of absurdity and shocking mundanities is constantly puzzling.
Under the Silver Lake is an amalgamation of the horror film, a proper mystery, an indie-stoner flick, a Hitchcockian homage, a maddening musical-financial conspiracy, sometimes it’s all of these things at once and never without knowing it, perhaps the snide self-awareness to Under the Silver Lake that is it’s most grating quality. To appreciate the cinematography, which is often inspired and dynamic, often rubs up against the reality of its own self-assured brilliance, each passionate, powerful camera move is challenged by the very content it captures. When the film is aloof, lost in a conundrum of it’s own devising, it’s almost charming, much like it’s main character succeeding when it was least sure of where it was going, however, when it knows where it’s going and somehow ends up nowhere it dissolves like a tablet on the tongue.