Review: Under the Silver Lake (Fantasia 2018)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: An aimless L.A wannabe, on the verge of getting evicted from his apartment, becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his beautiful neighbor.

REVIEW: SOUTHLAND TALES. MUTE. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE. These three movies could make up a trilogy in how they’re all wandering, aimless neo-noir passion projects from clearly talented directors who are trading on their ascendant status to get that one movie they’ve always had the itch to make off the ground. The result is usually bad – to varying degrees. Of them all – MUTE is the most watchable thanks to the great Paul Rudd performance, while SOUTHLAND TALES is an ordeal. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, while just as laced with young director hubris, falls somewhere between the two.

A hodgepodge of director David Robert Mitchell’s interests, including conspiracy theories, the occult, Alfred Hitchcock (someone even sits on Hitch’s grave at one point), old Nintendo Power magazines, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and a heavy dose of Thomas Pynchon, it’s no wonder critics seethed in rage when it premiered in competition in Cannes. The nearly two and a half hour movie (but it feels much longer) was so poorly received, distributor A24 moved it off its summer release date to December. A re-edit also seems in the cards, so the movie I saw at the Fantasia Film Fest in Montreal may well not be the movie that hits screens later this year.

Andrew Garfield plays our hero, a Los Angeles slacker who doesn’t seem too worried about his looming homelessness, spending his days getting high and jumping in the sack with almost every woman he meets. Things change when the neighbor he has a crush on, played by Riley Keough channeling Marilyn Monroe, vanishes right after they finally connect, cue his rather stoned search for her through a very glamorous, but thoroughly white-washed and uniformly heterosexual version of L.A (compared to this – LA LA LAND was the very model of diversity).

We follow Garfield around as he gets high, gets laid, occasionally gets roughed-up, and uncovers conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, mostly involving a groovy pop bad and a girl gang that seems to work for a pirate. It’s long – it’s meandering – and more than anything it’s dull.

Credit is due to Garfield though for going all-in on his character, and it’s his mega-watt charisma that keeps this watchable. He’s playing it like a none-too-bright hipster Philip Marlowe, while Mitchell works overtime behind the camera to convince you he’s the second coming of David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma and more. Even still though, one can’t deny he has talent, even if this is as far removed from the lean and mean IT FOLLOWS as you can get. Visually it’s quite beautiful to look at, and the score by Disasterpeace is inspired, but it’s all so vacuous, although perhaps this in itself is a sly commentary on L.A culture – not that anyone not from there will care.

While I pretty much hated UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, I’ll give it this – if Mitchell goes back in and does a radical re-edit, I’d be willing to give it another chance. There are parts of it that really work, but there are others when the movie grinds to a halt, such as a long scene where Garfield dances to R.E.M for no reason except to maybe squeeze another cool song onto the soundtrack (what is it with auteurs and semi-musical moments?). Maybe there’s a 90-100 minute version of the movie that just owns. I honestly hope he finds it, as nothing would please me more than to go back in a few months and discover he’s found the good film within. But this ain’t it – and as it is UNDER THE SILVER LAKE ranks as one of the biggest auteur-driven disasters in recent memory.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.