Spoilers might go in for a swim.
I missed this movie back in Fantasia 2018. I once started watching it, then stopped. I wasn’t getting into it. Now for some reason, I decided to revisit it and ended up watching it overnight. This feature film is not about crazy conspiracy theories, but it is about the subculture of hidden messages in media and the people who follow conspiracy theories. How true it is, doesn’t matter. You just needed something to do with your time.
Under The Silver Lake (2018) was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a slacker. He’s got nothing to with his day rather than ogle openly at the neighbor and have casual sex with a girl who visits him (Riki Lindhome). He meets a new neighbor called Sarah (Riley Keoth) and he’s infatuated. The next day, Sarah’s gone and Sam, who’s got a thing for mysteries, decides to track her down.
Sam is not a detective. He reads a local independent hand-drawn zine called “Under the Silver Lake” that talks about the mysterious dog killer that has been murdering people’s pets around the neighborhood. He chases after another girl that collects a box from Sarah’s apartment and walks into random Hollywood parties. Sometimes he runs into Allen (Jimmi Simpson) who also frequents the party scene and tells him about the girls he’s following. Other times he joins a bar buddy (Topher Grace) while he’s peeking into women’s windows using a camera-equipped drone.
I love mysteries, but I believe this movie is more about the style than the substance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. Great cinematography, great visuals and everyone seems to have such a laissez-faire about themselves that it does feel like a parody sometimes. I was waiting for one of the characters to go, “Shit, I have to work tomorrow!” That never happened. Sam never does any work, seems to be able to get by and pay for stuff just as well. And yes, all the women surrounding him seem to be sexualized and fetishized but that’s also because he’s a dick. The film tells us early on using movie language when some kids scrape the car he can’t afford.
You’ll notice that once that he watches an old movie with Sarah, we get this dramatic music beats that signal suspense. It’s almost like Sam is psyching himself into believing he’s on the trail to solve it all. Now in the film, it does seem like he gets things sorted out in the most random way. Everyone he has met seems to have had a piece of the puzzle for him. But rather than focus on the mystery itself, I found the surreal universe he inhabits much more enthralling.
It’s got some flaws. All characters are flawed. Women allow themselves to be sexually objectified. They also appear and disappear out of Sam’s life randomly. A lot of characters like Riki Lindhome’s actress and Topher Grace’s buddy never end up having a name. And yes, it’s a flawed society that worries endlessly about this millionaire mogul’s disappearance but doesn’t name the women that disappear as well. As for the mystery, I think the balloon girl (Grace Van Pelt) puts it best. “There’s nothing to solve, you know,” she says. “It’s silly wasting your energy on something that doesn’t matter.” I don’t want to ruin the fun, if you’re up for it you can try to solve it just the same.
Strongly recommended with some reservations. I seriously think movies like these required some formed criteria, some cinematic maturity from its audience. Casual audiences might be put off or just take the film at face value. It looks great, but it does seem to favor style over substance with a subtle jab at slacker culture. Going down the rabbit hole with the film can be fun, but aware it’s only a playground. Sam is not a hero, he’s rather conceited and self-deluded and it may very well be we’re only seeing the world as he sees it. In that sense, it’s a great film full of inauthentic people in a surreal setting selling you a hollywood dream. It’s worth a watch and gets better with repeat viewing.
That will do for now.