After the success of his critically acclaimed horror, It Follows, David Robert Mitchell takes risks with his highly anticipated follow-up. Under the Silver Lake is an ambitious and unique neo-noir that is full of twists and turns. The story begins with Sam (Andrew Garfield), a lazy and unemployed young man with nothing better to do than masturbate, spy on his neighbors and uncover hidden messages on TV.
Things change when Sam gains a new neighbor: the beautiful and mysterious Sarah (Riley Keough), who he sees frolicking about in cute dresses and bikinis around their apartment complex. Sam develops a crush on her and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her when she suddenly disappears.
Set to the hyper-realistic backdrop of Los Angeles, one of the most striking things about Under the Silver Lake is its cinematography from Mike Gioulakis (who also worked on It Follows). The settings are stunning and the color palette is often bright and vibrant, creating a similar vibe to 1950s Hitchcock. There’s also memorable imagery of animals, blood and violence which often appear unexpectedly.
As Sam begins to explore Sarah’s elusive disappearance, he eventually finds himself uncovering a major conspiracy. The film’s bizarre plot escalates into madness with nightmarish hallucinations akin to the surreal and dreamlike tropes of David Lynch. It also slips into satirical commentary as Sam meets other characters living the true LA-lifestyle as he narrows down leads. The way Sam pieces together clues from old Playboy magazines, cereal boxes, zines and lyrics only adds to the inane fun.
The soundtrack is a positive for the film, featuring hits from the likes of Nirvana, R.E.M. and Cornershop. Mitchell also teamed back up with Disasterpiece, his It Follows composer, to deliver the film’s menacing score. As a key theme of Under the Silver Lake is hidden messages, things get interesting when it alludes to pop culture being a construct.
Sam meets the Songwriter (Jeremy Bobb) who claims to have written every hit of recent decades. He plays through the key riffs of various hits – such as Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘ and Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll‘ – on piano, just to prove to Sam that the songs he enjoys are not genuine expressions of love and rebellion, but were instead manufactured by him in exchange for a paycheque. Sam is crushed to learn that one of his favorite songs is a fabrication, written by this ugly old man “somewhere between a blowjob and an omelette.”
For the most part, Under the Silver Lake is quite entertaining as you get invested in the occult conspiracy for the rich alongside Sam. However, it takes a while to get there with some scenes feeling like they go on for just a little bit too long, thus affecting the flow. Considering its 2h20m run-time, it could definitely benefit from a tighter cut.
Under the Silver Lake seems to be going for Lynch-like confusion and occasionally pulls it off really well, whereas other parts fall flat. Some questions are answered just to ask new ones, but it works if you’re happy to accept the chaos for what it is. Overall, it’s an eccentric rabbit hole of an experience and its stylish qualities, talented cast and bewildering plot make it a worthwhile watch.
Under the Silver Lake is out in cinemas and available to stream on MUBI.