UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)

Review by LL Soares

I love puzzle movies. The kind of movies where characters are investigating some kind of disappearance and come across lots of strange, oddball characters, and esoteric or occult mumbo jumbo. In the film UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, currently available on Netflix, Andrew Garfield is looking for Riley Keogh who just up and vanishes one day. The journey toward the answer of where she went is full of lots of strange twists and turns. I loved it.

Clearly, not everyone did. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE has a long and convoluted history. The man who wrote and directed it is David Robert Mitchell. Previously, Mitchell made two feature films, THE MYTH OF AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2010) and IT FOLLOWS (2014). IT FOLLOWS was the creepy indie horror flick that put Mitchell on the map, since it was considered one of the best films of 2014. In it, a demonic being is transferred from person to person the same way an STD is passed on. It’s a terrific little film and deserved its success. As a follow-up to IT FOLLOWS, Mitchell clearly had enough clout to get a dream project of his greenlit. That dream project was UNDER THE SILVER LAKE.

The thing is, the movie never had a chance. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 to mixed (mostly negative) reviews and was not picked up for American distribution. It was shown at a few other festivals, but never got a proper theatrical American release. Now, it’s available on streaming. All of this in unfair, since I think the movie deserved a chance to be seen on the big screen. I know I would have gone to see it.

Andrew Garfield played Peter Parker in probably the worst two Spider-Man films made thus far, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014). Before the Spider-Man films, Garfield was in lots of British TV movies (and even had a role on DOCTOR WHO in 2007). After Spider-Man, he was in such praised films as 99 HOMES (2014), HACKSAW RIDGE (2016), and SILENCE (2016), along with this one. In UNDER THE SILVER LAKE he plays Sam, an unemployed dude who lives in an apartment complex in Los Angeles. He spies on his neighbors, like a topless woman who talks to her birds on her balcony (Wendy Vanden Heuvel),  and pretty much just wastes time until he comes upon Sarah (Riley Keogh, also in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, 2015, AMERICAN HONEY, 2016, and IT COMES AT NIGHT, 2017), a new resident, swimming in the pool. He’s instantly attracted to her, and wants to know her better. She lives in an apartment with two other girls. One day, he goes to the apartment, and it’s empty, and he can’t get any answers about where Sarah has gone.

He snoops around the deserted apartment and finds a box of Sarah’s things (including a picture of her, that he steals). He sees a strange girl show up at the apartment (Zosia Mamet of GIRLS, 2012-2017), who takes the box with her, and follows her. His long investigation involves him with such oddballs as a recluse who draws a DIY comic book about local conspiracy theories (Patrick Fischler, also in the series MAD MEN and HAPPY!) and has a secret compartment in his home with tons of items bearing odd symbols; a rock band called Jesus and the Brides of Dracula led by a hippie named Jesus (Luke Baines, TRUTH OR DARE, 2017) and three “brides” called Meek Bride (Allie MacDonald), Clara Bow Bride (Victoria Bruno) and Reading Glasses Bride (Lola Blanc) in the credits; partygoers, including a woman dressed completely in balloons (Grace Van Patten); members of a strange Doomsday Cult who live in caves; a bizarre “Homeless King” (David Yow, also in I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE, 2017, and SOUTHBOUND, 2015, as well as being the lead singer of the band The Jesus Lizard) who appears when you least expect him, and who seems to know all of the hidden passageways under the city; and a rambling, pistol-wielding songwriter (Jeremy Bobb, also in the shows THE KNICK, 2014-2015, RUSSIAN DOLL, 2019, and currently the main villain in Season 3 of JESSICA JONES, 2019), who claims to have written many of the most famous songs in popular music.

Oh, and there’s an Owl Lady who sneaks into homes, naked except for an owl mask, and commits murders. Or does she? We only catch a glimpse of her, but she’s so bizarre she’s memorable, and I wanted to know more about her.

Also along for the ride are Riki Lindhome (of the underrated show GARFUNKLE AND OATES, 2014, and the movie THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, 2009), as Sam’s sort of girlfriend (more like a friend with benefits), and lots of skunks running around L.A. at night, ready to spray unsuspecting pedestrians who stumble upon them.

It’s a long and strange journey, with clues and symbols along the way, and I found the movie fascinating. I can see how this sort of thing wouldn’t be for everyone (remember its reaction at Cannes), but I, for one, think director Mitchell got a bum deal. This movie deserves a better reputation, and if you’re curious, you can check it out now on Netflix.

I give UNDER THE SILVER LAKE ~~ four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives UNDER THE SILVER LAKE ~ 4 knives!

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