Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Laura-Leigh Claire, Zosia Mamet, Callie Hernandez, Grace Van Patten, Patrick Fischler, Luke Baines
David Robert Mitchell always makes me think of Peep Show.
A24 is the gold standard for independent cinema, delivering movies that the mainstream studios seem to want to avoid. Why? Who knows, because far more often than not, A24 smashes it out of the park. It’s no wonder the calibre of actor that gets attached to their movies are top-class as the projects are always interesting and allow for some delightful range. That goes for directors too and following the pretty successful, and surprisingly acclaimed, It Follows, Mitchell decided to dip his toe into the weird and wonderful world of A24.
For Under the Silver Lake, Mitchell’s studying of the works of David Lynch is given full-frontal exposure. There’s more than a huge whiff of Mulholland Drive to certain moments and Lost Highway also – put simply, it’s bonkers, it’s bizarre, but, when all is said and done, it’s not incredible, either. The basic premise of a strange movie is Andrew Garfield’s unemployed, unambitious Sam becomes besotted by his new neighbour, Sarah (Keough), who promptly disappears. His search for her unleashes his furious love for conspiracy theories and leads him on a messy journey through the LA underworld. To flesh that out would be giving too much away and would possibly alienate anyone reading. It gets strange and some of it is excellent, but too often it strays too far into meandering territory or simply trying too hard with the metaphors and desire to create a modern Lynch movie. The initial intrigue set the tone for an exciting neo-noir thriller – Garfield’s reclusive oddball Sam meshing with Keough’s sultry, mysterious Sarah opened the doors to a great mystery story that just never came. The notion of the canine-destroying serial killer roaming the streets wasn’t followed up well, throw into the mix the resolution to the mystery which was pretty unsatisfying and some major plot threads were scruffy and frustratingly handled/executed. I’m still undecided on what I think about the set-piece including ‘rebellion’ songs, a crusty old guy behind a piano, a gun, Kurt Cobain’s Mustang guitar, and blood – whilst it was a cool metaphor and scene, it was pretty unnecessary in the grand scheme of Under the Silver Lake. Your tolerance for the barmy will ultimately decide your satisfaction levels for this movie, and the steps Sam takes to unravel the plot will be the ultimate test for anyone not fully on board with the movie when the time comes.
Andrew Garfield is an actor with clear talent and he is given a canvas here with which to paint in his style and he does a good job – he really does convey the confused, uninterested, dazed character traits well and is easy to follow. Keough isn’t really afforded a lot that isn’t based on image, but a scene between her and Garfield surprisingly provided some real emotion despite the previous hour or so being slightly testing. The females within the movie are mainly there for pop culture imagery or for titillation – which seems odd in this cinematic climate we live in now. That’s part of the major problem with the movie, the lack of real character investment leading to a distinct emotional void (aforementioned scene aside). When you realise the tension of a noir thriller is lacking also, what are you left with? A well-acted movie that admittedly looks sublime. The mix between bubblegum sunshine LA and grungy/dirty LA is delivered marvellously by Mike Gioulakis – it’s another A24 flick that looks wonderful.
David Robert Mitchell has certainly shown ambition in every aspect of Under the Silver Lake and there’s plenty to admire about the movie. This isn’t a bad movie, not at all. It’s just disappointing because there’s a really good narrative under it all that doesn’t fully evolve and develop in a way that would make this a really enticing and intriguing movie. Garfield continues to impress with his talent and I would have liked to have seen more of Keough’s ability, but, frustratingly, Under the Silver Lake is ultimately a movie that promises a lot, but doesn’t deliver enough.
January 13th 2019