Under The Silver Lake (2018)
Director: David Robert Mitchell | Runtime: 2h 9mins | Crime, Drama
Directionless 30’s slacker Sam (Andrew Garfield) lives in an apartment complex finding every which way to avoid work and paying rent. One night, he see’s his new neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough) swimming in the shared pool, and then the next morning she completely disappears. On his search to find her, his conspiratorial mind starts to unravel something much larger than he ever expected.
Under The Silver Lake will be a difficult sell for anyone, whether you like the complex narrative or prefer a more digestible story, it won’t be a film easily recommended. The easiest place to start is the writing and direction by David Robert Mitchell, who is most likely known for the 2014 horror It Follows, receiving huge praise for its originality, intelligence and general refreshment in a recently worn out genre. Only his second feature film, many were excited to see Mitchell’s next feature outing.
A brief synopsis hardly does justice to the aforementioned complex narrative, as the story of Sam trying to find Sarah is only really a loose connection to much of the events he seems to fall into, many of these side adventures feeling very disjointed until some key item is brought to the surface making it another reason for Sam to keep on his journey. It has been described as a ‘down-the-rabbit-hole’ film, which does rightfully summarise most of his journey. It is fair to say that the LA that Mitchell has created is not one based in reality, as every pop culture reference, every song, painting, advert is all a dark web connecting a multitude of conspiracies beyond Sam’s wildest imagination.
After Sarah’s disappearance, Sam enters her apartment and rummages through the few remaining items, only to be interrupted by some of her friends. He ends up going to high-end LA parties, meeting prostitution rings, a band by the name of Jesus and the Brides of Dracula (whose encounter ends in a extremely unnecessary gross manner) and others who all seem to know each other, with Sam struggling to piece together the connection – and here is where the films biggest issues lie. There are many stories, characters and conspiracies raised with loose connections and some explanation at the end, but really it all feels hollow. There isn’t actually much of a meaningful relationship between much of the events that occur and the characters themselves, and much of it feels like Mitchell doesn’t care about a coherent plot and that you shouldn’t either, but for this to be successful we would need a likeable lead and reason to go along with the incongruity.
Although Andrew Garfield is superb in his role as Sam, and one of his best in recent years (potentially only beaten by Hacksaw Ridge ), the character is incredibly difficult to want to route for. There is no way to really beat around the bush – he is an asshole. He does have moments of well-timed comedy but it isn’t enough to carry the film through far too many examples of the opposite, without any arc of change at the end.
It isn’t just this though, throughout he meets many women who he usually sleeps with very soon after, such as a billionaires daughter who only just lost her father. It doesn’t seem to bother her as soon as she meets Sam though, as they go swimming in a reservoir – in which she gets shot. By who? Never explained. Why isn’t Sam shot, how does he get away? You can only shrug your shoulders. Much of the incoherence is blended with poorly written female characters that only really seem to serve for Sam’s sexual desires.
There are moments of the writer/director from It Follows, though, as some of the neo-noir elements really shine, and throughout we are visually treated with not only excellent and unique cinematography, but carefully designed sets that compliment the conspiratorial themes well. Even though this reviewer may not have enjoyed the disjointed narrative, it does play well on the paranoia of modern pop culture with plenty of originality blended in. This is certainly not a film for everyone, those it’s aiming for will enjoy it thoroughly but there’s many out there that Mitchell will miss with a story too complex with not enough payoff to make it worth it.