River’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nowadays everyone seems to be obsessed with conspiracy theories— subliminal messages in songs, the dark side of the entertainment industry, ritual killings, you name it and the internet will surely provide you with hundreds of extensive videos on how the entertainment industry exactly functions and of course, who’s really behind it. Whether you believe any of those theories or not, it’s still fascinating.
In David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, Sam (Andrew Garfield) stumbles his way through the rabbit hole that is Hollywood. Introduced to us by a subtle homage to Rear Window, Sam appears to be your typical friendly, socially adaptable guy. But beneath the surface he’s eminently superficial, self-righteous and overly misogynistic. He lives in the always vibrant Los Angeles but doesn’t seem to be participating in any of its glory. He doesn’t have a job, he spends his day playing retro video games and peeping on his topless neighbour. His monotonous life changes however, when he meets the enigmatic Sarah (Riley Keough). They get high, they talk, they kiss and end the night on a promising note. But soon thereafter, our dazzling MPDG vanishes into thin air without leaving any trace whatsoever.
Sam becomes obsessed with trying to find out a pattern, any clue that might lead to an answer to Sarah’s sudden disappearance. We become immersed in a world with a dog killer on the loose, a secret club under the Forever Hollywood cemetery, an avid conspiracy theorist and a billionaire that might secretly pull all the strings above our heads. The film successfully plays into typical noir tensions, it’s unpredictable and highly engaging. Much like the main protagonist, the audience is perpetually left in the dark.
We get absorbed in Sam’s paranoia, his obsession. While being highly engaging, the plot feels jumbly. Mitchell’s vision is unclear and the plot never delves into something meaningful to grasp onto. By the end of its run time, the audience is still left in the dark. Mitchell cleverly used Sam’s paranoia to play into some classic tropes through his self-absorbed psyche. The oftentimes exaggerated male gaze hinges to a very misogynistic depiction of women. Surely it’s easy to grant Mitchell the benefit of the doubt and say those are deliberate as the film is quite heavy on its commentary on pop culture. To some degree, self-awareness in film has become a necessity. However, it’s also a very cheap getaway to excuse misogyny in favor of so called social commentary. Especially when it comes to ambiguous films.
Under the Silver Lake certainly evokes ambiguous vibes and has already been compared to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. There are several ways to read this film and surely people will dig through it for months to come. The key elements are in premise quite interesting. The film however, doesn’t try to pose any real questions but rather tends to abandon them just as quickly as they are posed. In turn Under the Silver Lake is half-baked and lacks consistency. It’s also a tad too long. While Mitchell’s vision remains rather unclear, his work is ambitious and in any case, doesn’t really seem to take itself very serious. If A24 still intends to push back the release date to December then Under the Silver Lake could greatly benefit and elevate from some (much needed) editing.