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Review: Under the Silver Lake

It’s not as streamlined and impactful as its predecessor It Follows, but it’s engaging, deep, and smart in its portrayal of its lead character’s flaws and motivations and the implications of Hollywood’s dark side.

Distributor: A24
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writers: David Robert Mitchell
Composer: Disasterpeace
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Topher Grace, Riley Keough

Genre: Neo-Noir/Dark Comedy

Rating: R

From the director of the 2015 cult classic horror film It Follows comes a complex, darkly funny, and weird mystery thriller about one young man’s dive into the heart of the underbelly of Los Angeles. In order to find a beautiful missing woman, Sam must skirt the edges of a massive hidden conspiracy that will take all of the knowledge and sleuthing he has to discover. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Significant blood and violence throughout, a man has his face crushed violently, characters are shot 
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout 
Drug/Alcohol References: Frequent drug/alcohol use throughout the film
Spiritual Content: Characters are members of an egotistical New Age Cult 
Other Negative Content: Gratuitous sexuality and violence throughout
Positive Content: Themes of acceptance and grappling with grief

Review

It Follows has a special place in my heart as the first horror film I ever saw in a movie theater. I was always too squeamish before I saw the film to ever try seeing a horror movie in a movie theater where I was alone with the movie at its mercy. I hated jump scares and I didn’t enjoy the tension that came with the genre. At the time, I gave it a shot and enjoyed my first positive experience of seeing a horror movie in a theater. 

The movie is excellent. Four years on, it’s one of the most beautifully shot horror films with one of the most memorable gimmicks/monsters in recent memory. A creature is always walking towards you slowly in a straight line and will continue to do so until it’s killed you violently. It’s a subtle and unnerving idea that’s rooted in constant dread and paranoia.

As pointed out by my lovely horror host friend The Bone Jangler, the directing of the film is spectacular and uses subtle flares and changes in the background to make the film unconsciously unsettling. The movie changes between shots almost at random and seems to be taking place outside of time as characters watch 50s B-movies next to people reading on mini-kindles. It never gives you a totally solid foundation, but it’s all purposeful and effective. All of this is in service to an interesting metaphor for the fear of death that comes at the cusp of puberty. 

Unlike most horror films I was seeing, it didn’t feel cheap. It felt like it earned its tension by rooting itself in a very real sense of fear innate in human life. Naturally, I was going to be interested in whatever came next from director David Robert Mitchum.

That came with the announcement of his follow-up film Under the Silver Lake which premiered at the 2018 Cannes film festival last May. The movie was purposed for distribution by the independent distributor A24, who subsequently and bizarrely sat on the film for a full year before giving it a rushed and small theatrical release and dumping the movie on Video-On-Demand. The movie’s unceremonious release has surprised a contingent of movie fans who considered this an insult against the film and who have crusaded to get more people to view the film and prove A24 wrong for its misjudgment of an ambitious and exciting new film. I’m inclined to agree with this and recommend anyone interested ought to jump on this while the iron is hot and support the filmmakers. 

On its own terms, I’m not sure who I’d recommend the movie too. I certainly wouldn’t recommend Under the Silver Lake to most Christian movie buffs given its rampant nudity and sex scenes. Granted, I did just write an article recommending Christians watch Game of Thrones last month, so maybe I don’t have a soapbox to stand on in regards to what other Christians ought to be watching. So let’s just move on like I know what I’m doing! 

Under the Silver Lake is a weird movie. That’s the first thing anyone is going to take away from their first screening, and it’s true. It’s a Neo-Noir dark comedy about a young man living in Los Angeles who finds himself in the midst of a massive underground conspiracy the moment after a beautiful girl he meets disappears after meeting him. The movie is set after him suffering a breakup and portrays him going through a stage of malaise, depression, and sexual frustration. 

At its face, the movie seems to be a metaphor about a young man going through the psychology of grief following a breakup. The movie goes much deeper than that, though. The story takes long tangents to explore different ideas about the darker side of Hollywood, the sexual objectification of women by the entertainment industry, serial killers, the cynical consumeristic side of youthful rebellion, new-age celebrity cults, and urban legends about sexualized cryptids lurking around Los Angeles at night. All this takes place over the course of a week wherein the story’s central character is constantly putting off making rent payments that will result in him being evicted from his apartment. It’s a movie with a lot on it’s mind, maybe too much in fact. At times the sheer number of tangents and story threads feels hard to follow. 

The actual conspiracy Andrew Garfield’s character uncovers is massive and convoluted in the extreme. It’s the kind of mystery that can only be resolved by cross-referencing issues of Nintendo Power Magazine and children’s maps on breakfast cereals. There is no way this could actually work as a conspiracy in real life. The absurdity of the mystery may very well be part of its point. It’s about examining the thought process of this one young man connecting the dots within his own head to rationalize his feelings. The best way I’ve heard the movie described is being plotted by the mind of a conspiracy theorist, which I think is an apt comparison. It doesn’t have to make sense. As anyone who’s ever ironically watched an Alex Jones clip can tell you, you’re watching it for the ride it takes you on.

I’m not sure how this movie compares to It Follows as a film. Its just as beautifully shot and loaded with tons of visual detail that will make rewatching the film enjoyable with multiple viewings. That first film is so lean and efficient that it’s hard not to call it the better film, but Under the Silver Lake certainly wins the day on ambition and complexity. As such, it’s also a movie I don’t think most people will enjoy as much as its predecessor. A straightforward horror film will always have more audience appeal than a madman spinning a conspiratorial yarn. Still, there is a certain kind of movie fan that will immediately latch onto this sort of movie, and I recommend seeking it out on your most convenient VOD rental service. If anything, it’s refreshing to see a movie this strange and ambitious coming out in conjunction with massive more straightforward blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame.

 

By Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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