Under the Silver Lake ★★★★★

With IT FOLLOWS, David Robert Mitchell planted himself, a new directing voice, firmly on the scene as a storyteller with a strong filmmaking IQ and natural genre instincts in creating one of the best English-language thrillers of the decade. But with this new mind-bender, Mitchell gives us the first & best offbeat DONNIE-DARKO-type conundrum since DONNIE DARKO.

Grabbing the narrative foundations (and even variations of the genre’s traditional scenes) from a detective noir film, UNDER THE SILVER LAKE goes down all kinds of rabbit holes dragging the audience joyfully along too. The Sam-Spade story structure usually doesn't entice me too much as it typically lays out a path of bread crumbs that the protagonist and audience have no choice but to follow--you always sort of know where you're going--until you get that grand finale where the mystery is explained and/or the villain is brought to justice. But here, the mysterious bread crumbs connect plot elements logically enough, but Mitchell ties up things weirdly, explains little along the way, leaves all kinds of things hanging, and creates a multitude of other little mysteries. But it's all totally engrossing.

Andrew Garfield is an unemployed part-time peeping tom, part-time conspiracy theorist who begins a slacker's journey to find a cute neighbor who mysteriously moves away suddenly. This is the mechanism which kickstarts the Los Angeles detective noir. He follows leads, interrogates people, and especially hilariously he follows the missing girl's roommates at a discrete distance. And in my opinion this scene is sheer classic, original cinema. Andrew Garfield sheepishly follows the roommates in his car and then by paddle-boat (yes, paddle boat) until a mysterious man unexplainedly dressed in a Halloween pirate costume comes along. It's total nonsense, but it is so riveting, and played with such reasonable assuredness by Mitchell and Garfield that it in no way feels out of place.

And on the one hand, that's the Lynchian spirit of it. But on the other, it is a layered series of urban legends, community rumors, and conspiracy theories played out by a filmmaker who uses every element of film (costume, sound, cinematography, set, actors' performances, even animation) to pull you into the quirkiness of his story. Skunk-spray, homeless kings, dog killers, secret societies, balloon dancers, hidden messages in songs, owl-women hunters, cosplay pirates. Welcome to Silver Lake, where nothing makes sense, but everything is familiar.

Mitchell's concentration on his DONNIE DARKO-style of contrasting elements is one magic show in his storytelling.  But further to that, Mitchell enriches things further with film references galore, conjuring filmmakers like DePalma, Hitchcock, and Kubrick among others. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is the rare, rare film that produces relatively stupid and unsatisfying closure (when you think about it), but leaves you with an entirely rewarding, and loaded experience.

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