Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough
Under the Silver Lake was nominated for the Palme D'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival
Los Angeles is strange enough as it is, as the birthplace of both Hollywood and Scientology, and it’s often depicted as a place of fantasy and mystery. It’s no surprise, then, why David Robert Mitchell (the genre-bending director of cult horror movie It Follows) takes his strange lens into LA’s dark streets, weird parties, and strange characters for his bizarre neo-noir film Under the Silver Lake.
Sam, a shaggy Andrew Garfield, is a layabout voyeur who stares at his neighbours from his balcony – especially if they’re attractive and barely clad. But he’s the least strange item in the peculiar world that Mitchell has built.
Sarah, a glowing Hitchcockian dream played by Riley Keough (The House That Jack Built), spends an evening with Sam and goes missing the morning after. Sam is concerned, making this probably the only thing he’s ever been concerned about, and endures a labyrinthine odyssey within a surrealistic LA to try and find her again.
Sarah (Riley Keough) is a glowing Hitchcockian dream
Sam stumbles in confusion, stepping through many strange and vivid images (all of which appear to be connected) and time feels constantly in flux. Mitchell sets the film in 2011, but it's spread with old Nintendos, classic movie posters, old cereal boxes, and iconic songs from the nineties. This LA is steeped in a subtle nostalgia, but a nostalgia that’s only relevant to Sam.
In many ways, Sam’s world is like a bad dream that only he’d be having – exposing all his anxieties within an uncomfortably Lynchian atmosphere. And like David Lynch’s films, it’s never possible to predict where a barely-lit road will lead. It’s a crazy, complicated journey, as if conjured up by a crazy guy wrapped in tinfoil, while Sam entertains conspiracy theories, coded messages, and subliminal messages.
Mitchell retains a delirious and compulsive curiosity throughout. Within ten minutes, Sam could be dancing at a party, then walking through an underground tunnel, then meeting a 'Homeless King', then entering a seemingly impossible castle. There’s never a dull moment. But Under the Silver Lake is not an escapist fantasy, it’s not a window into a completely different world – it’s more like a bleak house of mirrors. This world, unreal as it is, shows plenty of realities that are uncomfortable to acknowledge.
Sam (Andrew Garfield) stumbles from confusion to confusion, stepping through many strange and vivid images
Sam is a narcissistic misogynist, often unconsciously comparing women to dogs, and delights in the vices that capitalism provides. He’s a base-level, useless man who plucks himself out for a deeper purpose. This doesn’t make him especially sympathetic in his plight, but his step into a weird void is, at least, engaging.
Garfield conjures what little pity we have for his character, with his sparkling eyes and considerate face, and there’s a tangible trust in Mitchell’s mission to make every shot just a little bit weirder. Even the way Sam runs is strange.
Under the Silver Lake isn’t terrifying in the same way as It Follows was, but the film strikes its own deconstructive sense of fright. There are images that continue to haunt with every passing moment – when watching burger adverts, or listening to a song evoking nostalgia, or seeing somebody in the wrong way. This movie unleashes a battle of discomforts, which many won’t be ready for.
|What||Under the Silver Lake review|
15 Mar 19 – 15 Mar 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|