If you were to take one part Coen Brothers, two parts Robert Altman, add one part Paul Thomas Anderson, sprinkle in a touch of old Hollywood Humphrey Bogart, and mix it all together with a dash of David Lynch, you’d get something along the lines of Under the Silver Lake, the latest and most ambitious project to date from It Follows director David Robert Mitchell. Set in none other than Silver Lake, Los Angeles, this film may revolve around good-looking-but-got-nothing-going-for-him slacker Sam (Andrew Garfield), but ultimately it plays a much bigger role in the cinematic universe than just a story about a boy who doesn’t know what he wants.
With no job and no direction in life, Sam’s got time to spare, and he decides to spend it chasing down the infamous “Dog Killer” that’s been plaguing his neck of the woods. Touted as the most dangerous man in Los Angeles, the dog killer has been ripping through this sunny little chaotic town for far too long, morbidly murdering every sweet pooch he can get his hands on, and leaving a heaping of devastated pet owners in his wake. Fascinated by the scandal, Sam takes it upon himself to deep dive into an investigation, and the very first place he turns to look is inside of a local comic strip strip called “Under the Silver Lake”, in which the author points to a distraught failed actor carrying with him a distinct hatred for all canines simply because they are so easily beloved in the same city where he is so easily forgotten. The comic also implies that perhaps there is a secret knowledge that only the elite and the wealthy Angelenos are keen on, and the answer to all of these whimsical wonderings is buried deep beneath the silver lake – a proposition that Sam becomes obsessed with, until it consumes him completely, along with everything else in his life.
In the midst of his inquiries, Sam simultaneously develops another obsession – his new neighbor, Sarah (Riley Keough). After Sarah catches Sam spying on her during an afternoon swim, she disappears without a trace the very next day, leaving nothing behind but a box full of How To Marry a Millionaire themed Barbie dolls and other various knick-knacks which is instantly picked up and dropped off by an unknown blonde and her gorgeous girl posse. From there, Sam begins following the strange women around town, from one Hollywood rooftop party to the next, until he finally makes contact, starts asking questions, and gets even wilder and more outlandish answers than anything he could have possibly imagined.
From cryptic messages inserted into beloved pop music, to naked owl women ripping men to shreds in their sleep, to elusive graffiti codes scribbled onto every nook and cranny of the city, Sam soon finds himself on a rollercoaster of a ride to the truth – but even if he finds what he’s looking for, will the newfound knowledge bring him peace, or only increase his lust for the unknown, the bizarre, and the quest for purpose? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure – Sam is enjoying every second of it.
As Sam follows persons of interest from one easily recognizable Los Angeles location to the next, and the film becomes more and more twisted and crazily convoluted, it becomes clear that more than anything, Sam is just looking for something to chase. Whether it be a cash reward for a millionaire’s inexplicable murder, the motive behind a man’s canine cruelty, or the reasons for a cute girl next door’s sudden going rogue, Sam needs something to give his life purpose. He may live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with tons of options at his disposal, and gorgeous woman constantly falling at his feet, but Sam still isn’t happy – the constant aching pulse of the city feeds into his neurosis far too much, leaving him too burned out to feel much of anything other than anxious. In a way, Sam represents exactly what’s wrong with the world we live in today, and how having everything we want ultimately renders us lesser people in the end.
Director David Robert Mitchell achieved instant fame for his 2015 horror film It Follows, receiving high praise from such highly respected outlets as Rolling Stone, who called it “nothing short of amazing”, and Vice Magazine deeming it the “best horror film in years”. Even Quentin Tarantino boldly claimed the movie contains “one of the best exposition scenes that I’ve seen, frankly maybe ever”. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Mitchell’s follow up to the sleeper hit would come attached with such high expectations – which is perhaps why the filmmaker would swerve so far to the left, and deliver such a different type of film for his next time up at bat. Those who complained that nothing happened in Mitchell’s previous project will surely be pleased with the amped-up action and constant, dizzying movement of his latest feat, even if they’re not entirely sold on the story or the style. If nothing else, this is an extremely entertaining look into the wild happenings of the infamous Hollywood hills.
Fast-paced, overly saturated, and a meticulously complicated whirlwind of a feature, Under the Silver Lake is a trippy and exhilarating ride down the rabbit hole, despite the fact that the show does run on a bit too long. In the end, through all of the twists and turns and star-studded gatherings, this seemingly surface level tale about a couple of doe-eyed dreamers actually evolves into a surprisingly thought-provoking commentary about how far people are willing to go to re-establish a sense of mystery in an overstimulated world that has grown devoid of privacy, boundaries and intrigue – even if it doesn’t quite stick in the landing in the final act.