Under the Silver Lake




Below the surface of a city called Los Angeles.

Under the Silver Lake

Andrew Garfield


David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake is bound to divide opinion - and not just between those who like it and those that don't but between those who embrace it whole-heartedly and those who, like myself, relish the first quarter but find much of the rest of it exasperating. It is probably common ground that Mitchell directs with stylish relish, that Andrew Garfield in the central role plays with real presence and that the film looks really good as photographed in colour and 'Scope by Mike Gioulakis. For the rest let conflicting views reign.


This is very much an L.A. story with Garfield playing Sam who is a seemingly jobless hanger-on about to be evicted for non-payment of rent. Mitchell is also the writer here and Sam shares his creator's love of cinema: there are not only film posters on Sam's walls, but film clips are viewed (How to Marry a Millionaire), film extracts are briefly inserted (Siegel's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), films are reproduced (the pool scene from Marilyn Monroe's uncompleted Something's Got to Give) and elsewhere films are consciously echoed (Rear Window, Vertigo). The Hitchcock references (musical as well as visual) may be pushed to extremes, but even so this aspect dominates the first part of Under the Silver Lake and renders it a film buff's delight.


However, we then move on for the next hour and three quarters (yes, the film runs to all of 139 minutes) as Sam investigates the sudden disappearance of his latest girlfriend (Riley Keough). That may make it sound like a reversion to film noir, but instead this becomes a film about paranoia. The film takes its title from a comic book zine published by an eccentric (Patrick Fischler) who believes in the reality of bizarre urban legends underlying L.A. life and before long Sam himself is wholly caught up in theories about conspiracies and coded messages in song lyrics. Whereas Jacques Rivette's Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs to Us) was a comment on then contemporary social paranoia (it appeared in 1961), this film plays more like a portrait of an obsessive losing his sanity (think Coppola's The Conversation of 1974).  But, unless we treat much of what we see as being Sam's hallucinations, the plot developments seem quite as mad as Sam's notions. Furthermore, in time a violent encounter with a song writer (Jeremy Bobb) will lead on to a climax involving a cult group who believe in going underground to await and then to achieve afterlife ascendancy. There is a coda that has its own tone, but basically the film seems to embrace the fantasy world that is allowed to take over and which is depicted so self-indulgently.


Under the Silver Lake is certainly strange enough to become a cult movie but, Hollywood homage apart, it feels like the mere shell of a picture, one with none of the underlying inner validity that made 2001's Donnie Darko so much more than the sum of its oddities.




Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Callie Hernandez, Don McManus, Jeremy Bobb, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet, Patrick Fischler, Jimmi Simpson, Grace Van Patten, India Menuez.


Dir David Robert Mitchell, Pro Chris Bender, Michael De Luca and David Robert Mitchell, Screenplay David Robert Mitchell, Ph Mike Gioulakis, Pro Des Michael Perry, Ed Julio C. Perez IV, Music Disasterpeace, Costumes Caroline Eselin.


Vendian Entertainment/VX119 Media Capital/Stay Gold/Michael De Luca Productions/Good Fear Film/ Pastel/P2 Films/Cool Productions-MUBI.
139 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 15 March 2019. Cert. 15.