Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
A slacker ventures into a Hollywood odyssey that fuses together multiple levels of nostalgia including pop culture, classic cinema, and mysterious codes and hidden messages.
"I found some kind of code or like, secret message in her apartment ... It means stay quiet. Our world is filled with codes, subliminal messages. From Silverlake to the Hollywood Hills."
There is so so much to unpack after watching Writer and Director David Robert Mitchell’s twisty modern film noir mystery Under the Silver Lake, and while I was perplexed by many elements in the movie. I must say that I LOVED following along on this bizarre cryptic journey.
Under the Silver Lake stars Andrew Garfield as Sam who has no desire to work and just watches people from his apartment balcony/window, 'Rear Window' style. His interest is peaked when a blonde in a white bathing suit, that resembles a classic Hollywood leading lady comes and sits by the pool. They end up running into each other that night and hanging out. But before things get too serious she has him leave, and says they will see each other the next day. But when he goes to see her again, her apartment has mysteriously been emptied. Sam then becomes obsessed with finding her, and follows every possible clue to uncover the truth behind this Hollywood mystery.
This film is so jammed packed with references and odd elements, and I will do my best to point out the ones that stood out most to me.
- There is often a strange amount of focus and humor brought to odd gross things like showing a smashed up squirrel on the sidewalk, a bottle ashtray that has turned black, a dog taking a poop, and even an awful close up inside a toilet full of human waste
- The camera work reminded me so much of what I have seen watching Hitchcock and Kubrick movies. For example, there is a scene part where Sam is following a car that felt like it was right out of 'Vertigo'. Also the exclusive party he attends looked exactly like 'Eyes Wide Shut', and there is a solid red bathroom like in 'The Shining'
- Early on Sam enjoys looking at these little comic, which is how he gets in contact with a conspiracy theory guru who draws them. And when seeing this comic for the first time, we get some foreshadowing of the naked woman killer in an owl mask. All the animation additions to the film were such neat touch that layered in this modern comic book aesthetic
- There is a great scene when Andrew Garfield gets a spiderman comic stuck to his hand, which pokes fun at his ill-fated run playing Spidey in the Amazing Spiderman movies, that Sony pulled the plug on after part 2. He also hangs out with a character played Topher Grace, which is an interesting choice since he also received a lot of criticism from his role as Venom in 'Spiderman 3'
- I only now this next point since I am currently a Cub Scout leader. Sam wears a Scouting Wood Badge shirt for much of the movie. Wood Badge is basically an adult leadership training club that is very exclusive So it is very interesting that he would be wearing that shirt
- There is also a strong focus on classic NES games like Mario and Zelda, which adds a modern nostalgia to contrast all the older Hollywood elements. At one point when he is exploring a bunker it almost feels like he is in a video game, with how he is journeying through this area. There are even green pipes on the ceiling in one shot. And how about the last puzzle being tied to a Nintendo Power magazine
- There is a heavy emphasis on music, and finding hidden codes within the songs, which leads to a major clue that helps drive the plot forward. There is a great scene where he comes across this mansion and meets a guy at the piano, who explains that he has been the one responsible for writing all the popular music over the years, which he says are full of codes. There is a lot of focus on Nirvana in this scene, and the part where he actually smashes the guys face in feels like a fantasy
- Under the Silver Lake reminded me of 'Hereditary' with how many clues are sprinkled throughout, that hint where the story is going. For instance, the blonde Sam meets is watching a movie called 'How to Marry a Millionaire', which stars three women that she has dolls of. And that plays directly into the big reveal at the end
- There are classic Hollywood movie posters on so many walls throughout the film. There are also several tombstones that appear to be getting disrespected. For instance, a couple of girls happen to be leaning on Hitchcock's grave while watching a movie, hinting that they do not respect the classics. There is also an underground cafe later on, where people are eating on tombstone tables
- I am not sure what to make of the whole dog killer aspect, other than the fact that Sam is secretly the killer because he gets caught with dog treats in his pockets, and all the weird scenes were girls and dogs bark at him
- What was up with him getting sprayed by a skunk, and then people just occasionally saying he smelled long after that
- I thought the owl killer was the creepiest part, especially how she walks like a dancer. And I wish we could have seen more of her
So like in many mystery stories we find out that the whole journey was pointless, because there was nothing Sam could do to get the girl back. Plus, she even points out how crazy it was for him to do all this to find her, when they barely knew each other. At first, I did not get the ending but it has become clearer the more I thought about it. When Sam goes home he sleeps with the older woman with the parrot. We keep hearing the parrot say something, but we can't make out exactly what it is. I think this hints at how for the most part when people are searching for hidden meanings, there is usually nothing there, or we simply can't understand them. Then when he watches the police and Apartment owner looking for him, he sees the 'stay quiet' symbol on his wall, which is a warning that he better not say anything about what he witnessed. Which again is similar to what happens at the end of 'Eyes Wide Shut'.
Watching Under The Silver Lake was almost like playing a game with how layered it was with all these little references and homages throughout. On top of that, it introduces some interesting commentary on subliminal messages from pop culture of both the past and present.
I enjoyed David Robert Mitchell's previous film 'It Follow', but Under the Silver Lake is very special, and I hope people will go check it out and not be too put off by how cryptic and weird it gets.
Thanks for reading!
Happy movie watching ... Cheers!