Under the Silver Lake - Review
The cancelled follow-up to It Follows trips over itself with nonexistent plotlines, disappearing characters, and an unsatisfying conclusion.
Codes, codes, numbers and symbols. Under the Silver Lake is an obsession, something so dense and twisting it only makes sense to the person who owns it. For David Robert Mitchell’s sake, I sincerely hope he is happy with the finished product, even after it was cut from wide release and sentenced to die a quiet VOD death, but his film poses enough interesting questions to warrant more than that. Unfortunately, the only answers come in meaningless red-herrings and false payoffs, diluting an otherwise thrilling exploration of a mostly dead genre.
Any film set in LA that features a murder will inevitably be compared to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but trust me, this time it actually applies. A false identity, central romance, and palm tree-splashed skylines fill the background of Under the Silver Lake, which takes its title from another Los Angeles landmark. The film follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), a struggling hipster living in 2000s-era LA surrounded by partiers and nosy landlords. His life is lax, light, lacking in any purpose or sense of surprise; until he meets Sarah (Riley Keough), the West-Coast-dream-girl-with-a-dog he’s longed for. When she disappears with no trace, Sam finds a thread, which inevitably pulls him into an entanglement of absurd personalities, parties and conspiracies, enough to make your head spin.
The set-up for the mystery is solid; the characters aren’t bad; there’s enough great cinematography to land this in your friend’s Summer Vibes edit: all that’s missing is follow-through. Andrew Garfield isn’t going to win any awards for his performance here, though his look is superbly casual; instead, Under the Silver Lake makes narrative its driving force. A fanzine written and illustrated by a local artist controls the film’s central conspiracy, played by Lynch-veteran Patrick Fischler, who’s scene-stealing faint in Mulholland Drive just about captures how I felt watching Silver Lake.
It’s not an especially complex film, it only wants you to think it is: take the final twist, the big reveal as to where in the world Sarah disappeared to. Buried miles underground for the rest of her life, along with a millionaire and several other girls, all to avoid the inevitability of life in modern society, and also to have a lot of sex. Sure, there’s some commentary on the struggles of everyday millennials and their secret desire to live in a bunker and eventually ascend to a higher plane, but after two and a half hours of build up, it’s a mostly hollow revelation. The score from Disasterpiece does about 70% of the heavy lifting.
To a fault, Under the Silver Lake is an exercise in style over substance. It boasts hip language and a metaphor-ridden Los Angeles, but the forces driving its world are as lifeless as the advertisements it parodies. Where It Follows skewered teen-horror tropes with brutal efficiency, Under the Silver Lake struggles to achieve much by putting all its eggs in one basket, and dropping the basket.