A24 is becoming the movie studio that I’m starting to have a love/hate relationship with. I’ve been hearing a lot of things about Under the Silver Lake over the past few months since it’s been out in other territories. But the fear of knowing that this modern mystery might be brilliant or be full of itself was messing with me. But who knows? Maybe it might a memorable trip into the weird.
What’s the Story: Sam (Andrew Garfield) is an unemployed stoner who’s obsessed with conspiracy theories and is about to be evicted from his apartment complex. Everything changes when he spots his neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) and spent the evening with her. When she disappears the next day unexpectedly with no one knowing, Sam goes on a quest around Los Angeles trying to investigate what happened while uncovering secrets and clues in the mix.
Personally, I was looking forward to writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to 2015’s It Follows. That was a horror movie that I didn’t know much anything about it before walking in, and it was ultimately a solid and original modern take on the genre. Under the Silver Lake looked to be a promising neo-noir flick, but the anticipating was stepping down month after month before its release. Why’s that? This was originally supposed to come out last year after it premiered at Cannes and got delayed twice and the studio knew that they didn’t have faith in it. So, they decided to release it in select theaters and on VOD a few days later. Knowing this was gonna be one of these movies that will be very mixed, it didn’t come as a surprise to know that Under the Silver Lake feels like a mess and kinda smart at the same time.
Let’s start off with Mitchell’s script since it’s the element of the movie that hinges on both sides. I’ll give it credit for trying to be as original as it can get with its setting and offering something that hasn’t been done before, but the story just went in so many places that it was confusing to pinpoint what to care about. Following Sam in the “City of Angels” sounds like a cool experience, but it couldn’t handle on a constant tone filled with metaphors and whatnot. Harkening back to the classic Hollywood days of the detective stories or something David Lynch does might serve its purpose elsewhere.
Garfield gives a very solid performance and was the sole reason I kept watching. There were a couple of times where his character’s motives are unreasonable to get answers, but Sam comes off as this loner that needs some excitement to his dull life. Truth is, that’s going to be me in the next couple years. Though I can’t buy that he’s obsessed with a woman he just met, his mind is set to uncover everything in sight to find out why she left. His does have a good sense of fashion that I can appreciate.
Some of the other aspects that I really enjoyed was Michael Gioulakis’s cinematography as it was beautifully shot, and it has a pretty good soundtrack filled with some that I actually like. Probably the best scene is when Garfield was dancing to R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”. But when it came to the musical score by Disasterpeace, who also composed It Follows, it was wanting to be so much like the music Bernard Herrmann used to do, and it’s good, but it overstays its welcome when it becomes overbearing in some scenes.
Other than Garfield’s performance, everybody else really isn’t given much to work with, unfortunately. Keough isn’t in it too much to justify saying she was good, and Topher Grace, who plays Sam’s friend, is honestly wasted in a role that could’ve been utilized a lot more. But keep an eye out for Grace Van Patten, by the way.
Once it begins filling us in with all these theories and clues that are hidden in our pop culture, it has become too hard to understand what was going on after a while. Think of this as the movie embodiment of a paranoid stoner rambling on about how the media is tracking us and hiding a subliminal message in our music. It just became disinteresting after 90 minutes to the point where I was feeling the 139 minutes going by. Seriously, why did it need to this long?
This sort of reminded like a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, which is his worst movie (not sorry), where it’s focused on a character trying to solve this mystery and gets caught up in many things that feel complex and boring. I just thought of this as Inherent Vice‘s average little brother, but mildly intriguing.
Let’s use an analogy that feels appropriate to use: Under the Silver Lake feels like Radiohead’s discography. Don’t get me wrong because I really enjoy the band’s music. But some of their songs sound amazing, while others leave you scratching your head in an unimpressed fashion feeling, “Huh?”. That’s what I felt like throughout this, and that’s disappointing.
Is this for everyone? Probably not. People are either going to love everything about this and those who aren’t going to understand a lot that’s in here and won’t care about in the end. For me, I’m with the latter. I wanted to be in the minority and say this was crazy good. Instead, Under the Silver Lake tries to be this brainstorm of ideas wrapped around your head, but it leaves you in a land of confusion as soon as the credits start. Cult following? Sure.