“Under the Silver Lake” is like one of those Russian nesting dolls, you pull off one shell of a doll and there is another smaller doll underneath but this movie isn’t like your typical nesting doll, you don’t come down to one small doll within larger ones, you can keep pulling shells off and seem to never come to the end. This pisses a lot of people off, it doesn’t piss me off and I love movies like this that have me thinking days after I watched it, especially if its a newer film. Directed by David Robert Mitchell, who directed the awesome, multi layered symbolic horror film “It Follows” this was Mitchell’s fray into “Neo Noir”, a genre post 1960’s that lifts the main themes of “Noir” and transplants them into the current time period. More modern examples are most of the films of David Lynch, “Drive”, “Brick”, “Big Lebowski” etc. that mix various genres in with “Noir” genres like comedy, sci fi (think “Blade Runner), the supernatural and occult etc. Mitchell takes the “Neo Noir” genre and turns it on its head snapping its neck in the process.
Put out by A24 who has actually been putting out good newer movies, “Under the Silver Lake” on the surface is your typical “noir” plot. Loser and down on his luck Sam, played by Andrew Garfield, is about to get evicted from his apartment. He seems to have no job and is a creepy voyeur type who spies on his female neighbors, one of which is an old hippie chick who feeds her numerous birds on the balcony topless, he also has sex with an older and aspiring actress who drops by his apartment once in a while, as their having sex on the news they see that Jefferson Sevence, a billionaire stunt man/mogul has disappeared without a trace. However, he falls for a girl in a bikini who was a small white dog as a pet who is his neighbor, which is funny because there is a dog killer loose in the Silver Lake area who is killing pooches. He hooks up with Sarah, played by Lisa Marie’s daughter and Elvis Presley’s grand daughter, Riley Keough. They go in her apartment to watch a Marilyn Monroe movie called “How to Catch a Millionaire” and she has three dolls on her dresser of actresses in the movie, name labels beneath the dolls and beneath the names strange code. Soon other people come into the apartment before he can get it on with her and she tells him he has to leave but he should come back the next day. He does and finds the apartment empty, he breaks in the window and hears somebody coming, a girl dressed like a prostitute comes and gets a shoe box full of Sarah’s stuff with dolls and other pictures in it. He asks his pissed off landlord where she is and the landlord brushes him and tells him he has to pay rent or he is gonna get evicted. So Sam goes to find out what happened to her and where she is at.
That is the surface story, sounds like a start to a neo noir film and I am not giving anymore away but suffice to say from there it gets more crazy and insane. Then you start to wonder whats paranoia/fantasy or reality. This movie reminds me a lot of Lynch’s “Southern California Trilogy” of movies which are “Lost Highway”, “Muholland Drive” and “Inland Empire”. Its a mix of Lynch, Hitchcock and Chandler, even the in between, incidental music is something Bernard Hermann would’ve put in one of Hitchcock’s films which was done by the ultra talented “Disasterpiece” who did a synth soundtrack for Mitchell’s first movie, “It Follows”. Sam is obsessed with retro pop culture, in his apartment he has got posters for noir and old monster movies all over his walls, a VHS tape player, a Nintendo, Nintendo Power magazines, even the magazines he beats off to are old copies of Sears Catalogs, Playboys and Hustlers. As his search for Sarah intensifies so does his paranoia that all of pop culture and what we listen to, beat off to, watch, eat etc. is orchestrated by small group of men who hide in the dark.
Some of the characters in the movie don’t even have names, which I think is done on purpose, the aspiring actress girl whom is a “friend with benefits” type is listed in the credits as “Actress” who is played by Riki Lindhome, then there is the paranoid “Comic Fan” played by character actor Patrick Fischler who has been in two David Lynch projects, the aforementioned “Muholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks the Return” TV series, the Comic Fan puts out a zine drawn in Daniel Clowes fashion about the history and urban legends behind Silver Lake which was where the movie industry started, chief among them being the Dog Killer of the 1920’s who might be inspiring the killer of the modern day and the Owl’s Kiss woman who has sex with prominent men and murders them, all these sequences are done in animated, 2D.
“Comic Fan” also believes all the answers can be found on a map he finds in the back of cereal box, he also has plaster masks of Johnny Depp, Grace Kelly etc. all over his walls when Sam goes to ask him questions about the zine he created and Sarah, he says it all leads back to what is on that cereal box and if he isn’t careful the Owl’s Kiss will kill him. At first Sam thinks he is crazy but then realizes that ever since he was a kid he was trying to find patterns in everything. The Comic Fan gives him a guide on how to spot hobo symbols, one of the symbols, two diamonds joined together, look like the same symbols from the “Twin Peaks” original TV series, in the movie they mean to “remain silent”.
In “Under the Silver Lake” there is a lot of symbols, a lot of patterns and a lot of interpretations of what those symbols mean. It also examines pop culture and paranoia burn out in our technological age. It also skewers modern Hollywood and the media, almost every actress in this movie is a part time prostitute, and I don’t think there is any misogyny in that presentation, its actually a comment on how power hungry producers see females in the industry. Its a critique but the movie goes a lot deeper. There is a multitude of theories about this movie, that Sam as actually a schizoid, kleptomaniac who is imagining most, if not, all the movie in his head, there is scenes in the movie that are picture perfect renditions of the cover of an old 1960’s Playboy he jerks off at, a Marilyn Monoe film and other homages to retro pop culture or that he is actually dead and in limbo in a type of purgatory etc. There is numerous videos on the different theories and symbols in this movie. In fact the film’s cryptography advisor was a computer scientist named Kevin Knight who helped create a computer program to break the Copiale Cipher, so the symbols and numbers in this movie aren’t meaningless.
“Under the Silver Lake” premiered at the 2018 Cannes Festival. A24 were pretty shitty with this movie, they kept pushing it back and back on the release date and barely promoted it. That wasn’t fair to this movie, of course it has developed a cult following but it should be more widely known as a good addition to the “Neo Noir” cannon of movies. High recommendation from me, not a lot of modern movies stroke my sensibilities, especially lame stream movies. So go ahead jump into “Under the Silver Lake”.
So it is streaming on some platforms, if you have prime on Amazon or other subscriptions you should be able to watch it no problem. I say pay these people.
But if you don’t want to support art, you cheap fucking bastards, find a pirate ship if you know what I mean.