Film Reviews

Under the Silver Lake David Robert Mitchell

Rating - 6/10

As crowded and confounding as a Pynchon novel, and similarly funny and confusing, Under the Silver Lake is so packed with images, ideas, characters, and idiosyncratic plot threads, that it's impossible to address every aspect of the film. Even if I tried, I wouldn't be able to convey any kind of unified presentation of the movie's content, because the film squirms out every time I try to contain it in a singular conceptual box.

A follow up to the creepy, John Carpenteresque It Follows, David Robert Mitchell's third feature, Under the Silver Lake, was described by the Arclight theater concierge as “comedy-noir;” brave guy to try slapping a label on something that attempts so much over a 140-minute run time. We could also call this a surreal farce, a comedy of errors, a dream narrative, a postmodern-conspiracy collage, or even a Nintendo-homage.

On the surface, this is a detective story. When Silver Lake hipster SAM— played by a quizzical and goofy Andrew Garfield (and yes, we are gifted a Spiderman reference)—tries to reconnect with a fling named SARAH— a seductress played by Riley Keough—he discovers she has vanished under mysterious circumstances. Determined to discover Sarah's whereabouts, with presumably no other reason than he still wants to hook up with her, Sam follows a trail of idiosyncratic breadcrumbs – or in one case, dog biscuits – from Silver Lake to Downtown L.A. and back again.

But that aforementioned search is just a foil for David Robert Mitchell to play in the realm of the comically surreal. Using Lynch, Hitchcock, Pynchon, and even Super Mario Brothers as touchstones (and I'm really just scratching the referential surface here), Mitchell's film can ultimately be read as a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of the psyche of an arrested development twenty-something dude. You know, the kind of guy whose life is so meaningless that he looks for symbols on a box of cereal or codes in album lyrics (both made literal in the film). And what wanders the unconscious corridors of Sam's mind? Lynch and Nirvana, of course. That, and loose women who don't mind chatting about masturbation. These young men don't have jobs, and to them, women are objectified mysteries and occasionally bark like dogs (yes, literally).

It makes one wonder if Mitchell has given rein to his twenty-four-year-old self to write the most masturbatory (sometimes literally) script and not edit out a single thing. This works for about half the film because it's so silly and funny and stupid, especially the parties-on-repeat that simultaneously poke fun at and pay homage to cheesy late-nineties music videos, features a Billy Corgan lookalike as a singer named Jesus, and best of all, showcase Jimmi Simpon's granny-blouse wearing character, who asks stupid questions and offers vague clues with comic-aplomb.

Amplifying the comedy is Disasterpeace's tongue-in-cheek score, which channels Bernard Herrmann via Angelo Badalamenti. The score even produces tidbits of digital videogame blips near the end, both referencing Disasterpeace's background (he wrote the music for, among other indie games, Fez) and winking at the final settings of the movie which evoke locations in Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. And again, I've hinted at Nintendo and Hitchcock in the same paragraph which, really, tells you everything you need to know about this film.

And I still haven't mentioned the pirate who sprints into random scenes to upset Sam's quest and does so to comically dramatic music. But to cover everything, as I mentioned, would be to enter the figurative rabbit hole. Oh, I forgot to mention that the women Sam follows drive a white VW Rabbit. Get it?

In the end, to attempt an evaluation of the film it's best to focus on David Lynch–the influence whom Mitchell seems to worship above all others but the one Mitchell can't seem to match no matter his efforts. The Lynchian intentions are there: Under the Silver Lake basks in the sunshine noir palette and locations of Mulholland Drive, and even uses actor Patrick Fischler in a similarly conspiracy-oriented and doomed role as the guy Fischler played in Mulholland Drive. Yet, in spite of these and other hat-tips to Lynch (yes, there's a slatted closet), Mitchell never evokes the grim, unsettling nightmare of true Lynch fare. This was especially striking in a scene near the end in which Sam meets with about as Lynchian a character as you can imagine, a “Hobo King,” and has a Lynchian conversation about warnings, secrecy, and unknown consequences, all delivered by the Hobo King valiantly attempting to channel the deadpan malevolence of The Cowboy from Mulholland Drive. But Mitchell just can't make the unsettling, existential dread stick. We're left, instead, with a scene that feels cut from a Disney film, maybe Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and the result is that instead of feeling menace, we feel confused. Or bored. Or something. Mitchell does have a comic touch, and he really commits to the surreal, dreamlike avenues of his narrative, but he's also aiming to reach every single one of his influences, swings for the fences, and unfortunately, whiffs.

Speaking of whiffs—as the film progresses, Sam begins to literally stink, and this makes me wonder if the film understands the ultimate postmodern move, that of referencing the thing itself. Hopefully, Mitchell learns a lesson from this skunk (also in the film), and instead of pulling a Richard Kelly (did you ever wonder what happened after Donnie Darko?), Mitchell leans into his strengths and realizes he's not a Lynch, but might yet aspire to be a Carpenter.