Under the Silver Lake (2019)

“Is that random? Is there a reason?”

Five days away from being evicted out of his disheveled and disgusting place, the dawdling and aimless Sam (Andrew Garfield) creeps from the comfort of his balcony with a beer close by and a cigarette within reach. Binoculars bring him closer to his older, topless neighbor (Wendy Vanden Heuvel) and his voyeuristic eyes abruptly cross paths with the new tenant Sarah (Riley Keough), who looks like a bonafide Valley girl beauty with a friendly little fur friend in tow. They two flirt a little bit and both wonder about the dog killer going around the titular area. When Sam returns the next day hoping to get laid, Sarah’s apartment has been completely cleared. Up and gone she vanished, disappearing with the night breeze and the tides of Under the Silver Lake.

There must be a reason, an explanation, a motive. Sam blunders around like an amateur sleuth, tailing cars with possible connections to Sarah, interrogating party-goers at swanky affairs he wasn’t invited to, talking with a fanatical man (Patrick Fischler) who’s published zines about the terrorizing dog killer on the loose. None of it seems to add up. Sam’s trying to assemble a puzzle without all of the pieces at his disposal, let alone a master image to work off of. Under the Silver Lake follows his strange odyssey into the unknown and dives headfirst down the rabbit hole, giving two more clues whenever he thinks a single code might have been cracked. It’s relentlessly and intriguingly vague.

Channeling the surrealistic works of David Lynch and the neo-noir tone employed by Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (a film I’d like to revisit because I know it’s one I criminally misinterpreted after one viewing), David Robert Mitchell’s third picture doesn’t adhere to any sort of cinematic Pythagorean Theorem. The many smaller parts on display aren’t meant to equal the bigger picture, and instead they’re vagueness causes us to question what in the hell the big picture even is or what it might be saying on an emotional level. That’s part of what makes Under the Silver Lake such a palpably frustrating film to endure, as well as an endlessly rich one to pilfer through afterwards. We become Sam. We want answers to questions that are of no import to ourselves. Answers that fuel our shared craving to understand that which has no real desire to be understood.

Intentionally uneven, grossly perturbed, and utterly indulgent in Sam’s whimsically psychedelic trip and his fall into all of the complicated things happening just beneath the surface, Under the Silver Lake prefers chaos to the logic of the universe’s order. And unlike Mitchell’s previous feature It Follows (a bad movie with a bold idea that got by thanks to great camerawork and an amazing score), Under the Silver Lake emphasizes the masked nature of the inexplicable and embraces the unknown with a cautious hug. We all have our own internal Silver Lakes. Some of us naturally float, some willingly drown, and some pretend to be proficient swimmers while legs rapidly kick beneath the surface, hiding their struggle to stay above water. In that regard, Mitchell’s film scoffs at the idea of synchronized swimming, coaxing us to hold our breath and head towards the deep end of the pool in pursuit of more. I did not enjoy Under the Silver Lake at first glance. Weeks later though, I think it might be a modern cult classic. It’s unshakable.

“So what does it all mean?”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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