I always am intrigued when a director makes an interesting choice that defies expectations and moves away from what would seem to be the obvious. Such is the case with David Robert Mitchell and his latest directorial effort, Under the Silver Lake. This serves as his follow up to the brilliant indie horror hit It Follows. How easy would it have been for him to do another horror flick? Instead, he’s gone way against the grain and has crafted one of the most bizarre, intriguing and arguably nonsensical modern noir mystery thrillers imaginable. The movie’s sheer strange and haphazard nature may be off-putting to certain moviegoers, however, it winds up being a fascinating watch.
Under the Silver Lake centers on Sam (Andrew Garfield) who is the typical, idealistic Los Angeles burnout. His rent is past due, he’s days away from being evicted, and he has no job to speak of. Sam spends his days having casual sex, smoking, drinking and spying on his neighbors. One day, he spots a beautiful blonde whom he becomes instantly fascinated with. After going out of his way to meet Sarah (Riley Keoughh), going on to spend a memorable night with her, he discovers the next day that her apartment is abandoned. Sarah is gone without a trace. This sends Sam on a quest to find out what happened to this woman, leading him on a journey that takes him to the furthest, undiscovered corners of the city on a path littered with scandal, strange happenings and intrigue.
Since It Follows was the first thing that most moviegoers came to know David Robert Mitchell for, it was easy to sort of assume the man would pull a James Wan and just become one of our modern horror guys. To be clear, there are moments of his brilliant eye for the frightening at play here, but this is very much an unexpected turn that showcases the filmmaker’s wider-ranging abilities. Under the Silver Lake is, in addition to being effectively mysterious and strange, winds up being absurdly hilarious. Mitchell has a knack for situational comedy and if he announced his next project was going to be a straight-up slapstick affair, I’d be in line for it.
That sort of gets to one of the larger points in that, this movie really messes with the viewer’s expectations. Andrew Garfield, who turns in a stellar performance here I might add, is a hapless obsessive and kind of a scumbag, but a (mostly) harmless one at that, trying to solve a mystery fueled by all of his own flaws. It makes for blurry lines. Was that real? Or was it a dream? Or something fueled by drugs? The movie doesn’t answer all of those questions directly and, as a result, the viewer doesn’t really know what to expect. It’s a journey driven by paranoia and bad decision making.
The movie has Inherent Vice vibes, but it manages to have enough of a narrative to actually keep it on the tracks. Part of what aides in that are the deeper themes being explored in Under the Silver Lake, which happen to be quite interesting. It’s simultaneously a rejection of new-school Hollywood and a love letter to new Hollywood. There are themes of paranoia, fear of modern media and looking for meaning in life in places where meaning may not exist, simply because life may otherwise be unsatisfying. Not for nothing, but there are also some great little loving jabs at Andrew Garfield’s previous careers as a certain Marvel superhero. And, unsurprisingly, the soundtrack, even down to the lead character’s ringtone, is top-notch.
While there is a lot of joy to be had in what largely mirrors the most absurdist qualities of the Coen brothers filmography, in addition to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, it’s not without its problems. The movie does drag its feet a bit, certain shots are a bit gratuitous, specifically as it relates to what many might accuse of being unnecessary nudity. For those who aren’t put off by the aimless and somewhat unhinged, and certainly not definitive, narrative approach, there is a lot to love here. Who can’t dig watching Andrew Garfield dancing to R.E.M. in a secret cave party? Honestly. A24 has scored again and David Robert Mitchell has secured his place as a director to not be ignored.