Under The Silver Lake: Looney Noir
After several delays, David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake quietly snuck out on Video on Demand. It’s a surprising move from A24, who seemed to have no faith in this quirky neo-noir mystery that is equal parts Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and Thomas Pynchon. With an ambitiously wild premise full of twists and turns, the film is about one man’s quest to find meaning in a confusing world, and its two and a half hour journey will either wow you or lull you to sleep.
Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a disenchanted 33-year-old who discovers a mysterious woman (Riley Keough) swimming in his apartment's pool one night. When she vanishes, Sam embarks on a surreal quest across Los Angeles to decode the secret behind her disappearance, leading him into the murkiest depths of mystery, scandal, and conspiracy in the City of Angels.
The overall scope and ambition of Under the Silver Lake is impossible to ignore. Its spiderweb narrative full of conspiracy theories, scandals, and pop culture is definitely the work of some kind of genius, however misguided it to be. The world it creates is vivid and massive, lived in and real, so much so that it seems to get lose sight of its audience’s wants and needs. It can certainly be accused of being incredibly self-indulgent and slow moving with little to no payoff, which the film packages up as its overall point, but it falls of the rails in pretty interesting ways, even when you can no longer tell just what exactly is going on.
Mitchell takes us on this long-winding, amateur-sleuth quest for meaning through avenue after avenue of pop culture references where hands always turn up empty. Although it is pretty goofy and lighthearted in tone, Under the Silver Lake is nihilistic at its core, concluding that everything is essentially meaningless. This is nothing new or groundbreaking, but Mitchell’s execution is certainly commendable and unique. That said, its closing epiphany would have been more effective if it weren’t painfully obvious that it was slouching and slumping toward this revelation for its entire runtime. In an otherwise schizoid film, this final message seems somewhat basic and disappointing when you consider the ride you had to endure to reach this point.
The film’s unnecessarily lengthy and complex plot is made all the more tedious by its unlikeable lowlife protagonist, Sam, who is misguided slacker. Lazy and jobless, he passes time voyeuristically peeping on his apartment complexes various female inhabitants and loafing around. He isn’t really motivated to do anything, until his beautiful neighbor, Sarah, whom he only met once, goes missing. The film then becomes a somewhat entertaining trudge full of red herrings and hidden messages, which is further deflated even by disappointing ending, which is mildly humorous in an anti-climatic kinda way.
Disappointments aside (which are all very subjective), the mood that Mitchell manifests is beguiling, and the breadth of his aspiration is bold, singular, and oddly beautiful. Just as It Follows seemed to be a love letter to John Carpenter, Under the Silver Lake is a love letter to Alfred Hitchcock and nostalgia for old Hollywood films. A lot of the camera movement and techniques seemed to be twisted perversions inspired by Hitchcock with a dollop of the David Lynch. Narratively, the film also feels very similar to Vertigo with heavy influence from post-modern novelist Thomas Pynchon, which gives the film a shared drug-addled aloofness with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.
Though its weirdness, cleverness, and oddity is enough to keep most viewers engaged, Under the Silver Lake is ultimately not enough to fill the cup. It’s anchored by a solid performance from Andrew Garfield, and it gives the view a lot to wrap their head around and sink their teeth into, but it has the tendency to leave the viewer unfulfilled, longing for something more radical and strange.
Recommendation: A frequently bizarre, sometimes entertaining but seldom uninteresting ride. Check this out if you’re curious and into film noir. You’ll either feel like it’s genius, or a 2.5-hour waste of time. You gotta throw the dice to see where you fall.
Rating: 2.5 conspiracy theories outta 5.
What do you think? Was Under the Silver Lake a sophomore slump or a work of misunderstood/under-appreciated genius? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!