FILM REVIEW: "Under the Silver Lake" isn’t as deep as it thinks
Sometimes, the mystery solves itself. And sometimes, things are more complex than who did what, in which room, with which candlestick. Under the Silver Lake, for example, is a film that looks through the magnifying glass backwards. What results is a film that will likely leave you guessing.
Under the Silver Lake finds sleazebag-turned-detective Sam (Oscar Nominee Andrew Garfield) twirling through L.A., searching for a cryptic woman who disappears without a trace after a fateful night. As the mystery deepens, Sam stumbles further into inner-L.A’s uncanny valley and finds himself caught up in a seemingly endless chain of hoaxes and conspiracies.
Under the Silver Lake succeeds in worldbuilding, creating an invigorating and palpable rendition of L.A. The film builds its own mythos and fashionable underworld in a way that is sometimes terrifying but always gorgeous. The narrative, however, skims across the surface of all this potential, constantly introducing new mysteries which amount to little more than drops in an ocean of uncertainty.
The first and foremost problem with Under the Silver Lake is writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s (creator of the cult sensation It Follows) inability to maintain focus. Despite reeling us in with his mastery of tension, Mitchell seems obsessed with keeping the viewer perpetually on the hook by skipping over the resolutions to any of the dramatic questions his film poses. Under the Silver Lake spends so much time treading water that I found myself growing weary, unsure which parts of the film would be worth remembering come the wrap up. And I left convinced that none of it was.
Under the Silver Lake is no mystery. It’s a bundle of scenes and subplots strung along (instead of together) over two and a half hours, a period in which it feels as if the film should end at least five times before it reaches its ignorant finale. The film’s episodic introduction of new mysteries (which it promptly forgets) makes it feel more like a limited TV series. And, in some way, Under the Silver Lake works as an exaggerated pilot.
The cast and crew do what they can and, to their credit, this crew would be fantastic on an alternative or superiorly written film. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (Us, It Follows) beautifully mimics the cinematography of Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery works. The soundtrack is jazzy and perplexing: saxophone notes often waft through dusky shots of a forlorn L.A in a way that feels more mysterious than anything in the narrative.
The film’s array of peculiar bit-players and extras represent perhaps its most interesting and well-defined characters. Indeed, Jimmy Simpson steals the show as Garfield’s reviewer friend who (thankfully) seems to show up almost everywhere he goes.
Given the pitch-perfect soundtrack, it is hard not to wonder if David Robert Mitchell is using his creative force to enact a fantasy which indulges some of the most questionable excesses of Noir: a world where every female character (and there are many) is a scantily clad sex-fiend who desires the slothy Garfield. Perhaps this is meant as a tongue-in-cheek bite at the idea of femme fatales and L.A. Dreamers. But any sense of such purpose or payoff is, like almost everything else, lost amongst the murky depths of Under the Silver Lake.
2 out of 5 stars.