[Movie Review] Under the Silver Lake (2018)


USA | Comedy, Crime, Drama | R | Director: David Robert Mitchell | Writer: David Robert Mitchell | Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace | English | 139 minutes

Imagine watching a crime film that keeps you guessing all the way. That must be one heck of a good cinematic experience, right? You may pronounce the previous sentences in a positive manner if the movie really pays off the mystery it promised through compelling series revelations. What about 'Under the Silver Lake'? To be very honest, I don't know for sure. David Robert Mitchell has proven he got what it takes to craft a masterful looking, eerily atmospheric piece of a silver screen as shown in the 2014 horror 'It Follows'. He played 'Under the Silver Lake' to his strongest card, which is assembling a composition of bleak and seemingly disarrayed, subtly disturbing imageries. It is not a surprise knowing that A24 is the one distributing this spectacle as my immediate first reaction after the first viewing was 'ah yes this is very A24'.

We have Andrew Garfield acting as Sam, a somewhat annoying jobless young guy, soon to be evicted because of overdue rent and absolutely has nothing to achieve with his life other than uttering conspiracy theories. His routine is about to be shaken when he finds out about the existence of his gorgeous new neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough). They chat and flirt throughout the night until the very next day, she suddenly disappears without a trace. Sam believes something is wrong, and the disappearance of Sarah might be related to Hollywood's sinister secrets which he discovers from an indie magazine titled 'Under the Silver Lake'. Then he decides to go on a journey, delving to the depth of Los Angeles' underworld seeking for Sarah.

If such a premise lures you to think there might be some thriller aspects involved in the story, you are in for a disappointment as the film practically has virtually non-existent thrilling ingredients. It heavily relies on some satirical and grimly shirker comedy trickeries to pull out its darker tone. We'll see what Sam actually doing for most of the time is barely coming to places and stare blankly in awe (or in shock) at what he has to witness, prompting him to furtherly undertake things that do not reasonably make sense as he unboxes a whole new layer of the town where he's been living all along which he never knew exists. Glimpsing him performing ridiculous acts feels more hilarious rather than irritating because such ridiculousness sources from irrational sights which Sam has to digest.

Mitchell himself correctly described his latest entry as a 'neo-noir' since it definitely feels both explicatively nostalgic and technically progressive at the same time. A lot of critics are saying 'Under the Silver Lake' looks like a reminiscence on films like 'Inherent Vice', 'Southland Tales', and many Lynchian-styled features. With all the talents he possesses in his directing arsenal, Mitchell attempted to advance the genre by combining past ideas with his peculiar vision. The number of intriguing plot points placed during the first hour is undeniably good then add them fantastic tonal play and photographic arrangement into the mix, I was convinced this one is going to be an amusing ride. But as the story progresses, the film gradually lost its way in its own maze of conspiracies (just like Sam).

From my perspective, each frame appearing on-screen bears much more metaphorical meanings beneath it than what we could merely perceive on the surface but unfortunately, most of them went above our head (again, just like Sam who never had a full grasp on what's happening around him in spite of his detective-like effort to uncover the mystery). Not going to dismiss that the movie itself is praiseworthy, it has ambitions it wants to achieve however it can't completely connect with me and maybe a handful of other audiences. There are some jabs addressed on how people, especially new names who are trying to make a name for themselves, are being treated in Hollywood; commentaries on common conspiracy theories we already used to see surrounding messages behind popular songs and other forms of pop culture; criticisms on how people perceive art in this modern day. It's a lot to take in and to maintain a healthy digestive system we should never chew more than we need to.

The biggest saving grace of the movie is Andrew Garfield acting. He deserves every single compliment for carrying the burden with materials fed by the filmmaker on him. He spouted absurd and unbelievable lines, and acted like an unknowledgeable fool for most of the time but he accomplished every single bit of his part beautifully. Garfield brilliantly showcased a thorough understanding of Sam's character to the point where weirdness and awkwardness are leaking like a bodily fluid from his personage yet behind all that stuffs he always had that 'game' with women. So, I'll recommend this flick to you only for Garfield alone.

Review written by: Dysan Aufar