Following on from his horror delight It Follows back in 2014, director David Robert Mitchell finally returns behind the camera for sophomore feature Under the Silver Lake and it’s an absurd, surrealist fever trip through L.A’s wild suburban landscape.
When disheveled lost soul (Andrew Garfield) encounters the mysterious, beautiful Sarah (Riley Keough) one night, he finds himself deeply entranced by her presence. However, when she suddenly disappears the next morning, Sam sets out across L.A in the hopes of discovering just where she went. But, as he does, he begins to unravel a dark – and, frankly, bizarre – conspiracy that forces him to confront the city’s underbelly of sex, greed, power, and cultural corruption. And if that doesn’t sound like one of the most biting social commentaries on today’s obsession to consume everything thrown at us without ever indulging such notions, I don’t know what is. Under the Silver Lake is a very oddball piece – this is an amalgamation of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock with shades of Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski, all smashed into a blender with a splash of LSD for safe measure. It’s out there, for sure. But Robert Mitchell’s films always have been.
Similarly to the deconstruction of the coming-of-age and horror genres with his prior two endeavours, Silver Lake riffs film noir and the private-eye story. It feels less elegiac than its counterparts though; it’s ripe with a heavy-handed message about our culture brimming with “hidden messages” but it’s wackier and splashier than both The Myth of the American Sleepover and It Follows. The almost-freewheeling nature of the narrative is esoteric; the film is sprawling and messy – it’s a woozy piece, stumbling through its psychodrama as the unkempt Garfield stumbles through the equally as sprawling, messy L.A on his search for an occult conspiracy. He’s not necessarily a likable protagonist and the hazy daze in which this film slugs through will alienate many; it has a string of absurd imagery from a naked bird lady to an owl-faced woman constantly lingering behind Sam to Garfield laying waste to some kids that keyed his car. It’s all part of the film’s subliminal messages, you see. Or so we’re led to believe. For a film obsessed with secret codes, you’d be foolish to believe Robert Mitchell’s mind-trip is empty of them. You can frustrate yourself on the plausibility of it all or you can let it wash over you and just enjoy the ride.
The ride that is anchored by a career-best Garfield; he’s at the forefront of this story, we’re journeying into this wormhole besides him – discovering it as he does. And the actor is magnetic to watch; he’s a fascinating character – jobless, broke, crass, on the verge of eviction, constantly wanting to get laid and smelling of skunk – and Garfield embraces this character with open arms and a gleeful grin slapped across his face. We sort of throw all our bad impulses as human beings into him; we don’t exactly relate or connect to him but there’s something about seeing a character so desperately struggling yet so clearly void of care for it that makes Sam a compelling lead. Plus, Garfield’s comedic timing and quizzical outlook on it all is terrific. Coupled with David Robert Mitchell’s kinetic camerawork and direction and you’ve got a film that is undeniably compelling. Under the Silver Lake is a dizzying fever trip through L.A and the 21st Century that is as sprawling and convoluted an endeavour as they come; yet, it’s this medium dialled up to 11 – absurd, creatively charged, inexplicable, sinister, witty and wholly intoxicating. It’s an absorbing slice of cinema that is stunningly made, fascinatingly conveyed and thoroughly entertaining. Just surrender yourself and enjoy this utterly bizarre, provocative trip down the wormhole.
Under The Silver Lake was reviewed at the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival.