21st Jan2019

‘Under the Silver Lake’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Deborah Geffner, Riki Lindhome, Jeannine Cota, Chris Gann, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Makinson, Jimmi Simpson, Grace Van Patten | Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell

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Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a disenchanted 33-year-old who discovers a mysterious woman, Sarah (Riley Keough), frolicking in his apartment’s swimming pool. When she vanishes, Sam embarks on a surreal quest across Los Angeles to decode the secret behind her disappearance, leading him into the murkiest depths of mystery, scandal, and conspiracy in the City of Angels.

David Robert Mitchell follows up his breakout 2014 subverted horror hit It Follows with the conceptually as well as contextually (courtesy of distribution issues and numerous edits) enigmatic mystery thriller Under the Silver Lake. An incredibly bold, superficially intoxicating and elegant thriller that just about keeps its flamboyant head above water while successfully conveying an indulgent, albeit infatuating narrative.

Under the Silver Lake is the definition of mysticism. The sheer scale of narrative threads that are subconsciously and consciously apparent are tremendous, if not at times severely overwhelming for the casual viewer. Ironically it is, in fact, this slight niggling over indulgent negative that makes Mitchell’s film click and work to the intriguing degree it does. The narrative is absurdly convoluted and virtually inaccessible in numerous sequences that travel a thin line between debatable actuality. Yet the plot is insatiable and intoxicatingly mesmerising to behold in the abstract manner it is conveyed.

In that sense Under the Silver Lake truly subverts the typical generic conventions and narrative you come to expect, courtesy of writer/director David Robert Mitchell who is the sole credit. A factor that does show in how groomed in a sense of how adventitious and self-indulgent scenarios develop. The smallest of threads lead to the greatest of impacts, meanwhile, the largest of arcs may add so little to the climactic reveal but reinforce the hollow ideology of Los Angeles or Sam’s hopeless and ignorant outlook on life. It is this somewhat abrupt and fractious element that will be the destructive force for major audiences to maintain a relationship with the material on the screen. Possibly way provocative and far too abstract for its own good to be commercially viable, but that undoubtedly will feed into the cult classic underbelly of cinema come a few years.

Performance wise Under the Silver Lake boasts quite a terrific cast list with equally as impressive performances. Lead actor Andrew Garfield continues to put forward terrific lead performances in a range of experimental roles on from his rather underwhelming turn as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man in 2014. His character Sam maintains his terrific form as an ever-evolving actor that encapsulates depressive and regressive angst. A performance that does set the world alight but underneath the skin has multiple layers that buuble away to the surface in a restraint screen presence and ironic sense of confidence wrapped in self-disbelief.

The supporting cast while slight and light in terms of screen presence work well in the context of a film that gives you so much depth with so little explanation or exposition. An allegory to the sub-plots and characters themselves, of whom add such significant weight to proceedings in minimal screen time. Each has in particular screen presence and a sense of unique bravado. Riley Keough as Sarah is the impetus of the overall story and utilized in a romanticised aspect, perfectly book-ending the film incredibly strong. Westworld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia alumni Jimmi Simpson as Allen and Grace Van Patten credited as Balloon Girl also impress in somewhat bloated cameos with wonderfully avant-garde and ridiculous performances that light up the screen with every second they develop.

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