Under the Silver Lake - Review

The cancelled follow-up to It Follows trips over itself with nonexistent plotlines, disappearing characters, and an unsatisfying conclusion.

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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.

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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.

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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.