Under the Silver Lake Review
Under the Silver Lake is the newest offering from writer-director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) starring Andrew Garfield as an aimless 33-year-old named Sam who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his mysterious blonde neighbour, Sarah (Riley Keough).
Billed as a ‘neo-noir fever dream’, Under the Silver Lake follows Sam as he pursues strange conspiracy theories through a weird but beautiful world in search of the elusive Sarah. Unfortunately, the plot gives little satisfaction; the film plays instead like a masturbatory fantasy of Old Hollywood, resurrected in the delusions of a hapless man-boy interested only in the things he can’t have and the mysteries he can’t solve. Whatever is available to him quickly ceases to be of interest, like his actor girlfriend who he quickly discards in favour of the wide-eyed Sarah - once she’s disappeared, of course.
Add in a dog-killer stalking the canines of Silver Lake, a strange and murderous creature called the owl, and numerous famous millennial faces (Topher Grace, Zosia Mamet, Rikki Lindhome, the Silversun Pickups) and you have something that feels close to David Lynch but without the psychological poignancy.
The major problem with this film is the overt sexism. The female characters exist solely for what they offer the male characters, with no agency or purpose of their own (unless you count Balloon Girl (Grace Van Patten)'s statement, "we're all just enjoying our bodies," as a purpose). Not to mention that the owl—a naked woman in an owl mask who attacks men in their homes—is a painfully obvious symbol of the threat that strong female sexuality poses to men who are, like Sam, utterly inept at life. Meanwhile, the series of girls who are pulled into what can only be described as a suicidal sex cult serve as the owl’s opposite: vapid, beautiful, and completely in the grip of the powerful men who own them. (Spoiler alert: that's where Sarah ends up.)
In the Q&A included in the DVD release, Garfield explains Sam as someone who thinks he’s a hero: “He thinks he’s going to save womankind from the clutches of patriarchal, toxic masculine Hollywood.” But all Sam manages to do is observe the inequality and maintain the status quo with a grudging smile, while peeping on literally every woman he encounters.
Like men in Hollywood have done for decades.
The cinematography, the acting, the production design, and the score in particular are all great, but it’s not enough to save the film. The plot is off-puttingly obscure, the nods to classic Hollywood films feel contrived, and there is no pay off to all the film’s weirdness that’s worth sitting through two hours of the kind of sexism that has no place in 2019.
Garfield says that when he read the script, he didn’t get it, and he wanted to get it.
I didn’t get it either, but the difference is I don't think I care.
Under the Silver Lake will be released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by MUBI on 26 August, 2019. The DVD extras include a Q&A with Andrew Garfield (11:16) and two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one on the production design called What Lies Under the Silver Lake (10:00), and one of the music called Beautiful Spectre (9:08). All are interesting, particularly for the insight into the film’s fantastic score by Disasterpeace.