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Review: 'Under the Silver Lake' is a trippy cinematic treasure

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at 5:04 PM Central
Last updated Thursday, June 20, 2019 at 8:19 AM Central

by John Couture

It's sad, but most films that you see today are what I like to call single-serving entertainment options. It's probably something that I borrowed from my favorite author Chuck Palahniuk and the film adaptation of his work Fight Club, but most movies these days are only good for one viewing and then you immediately forget about it.

Perhaps it's a byproduct of our instant on-demand world where a host of entertainment options are available to us with the push of a single button 24 hours a day, but it's rare these days for me to go back and re-watch a movie. Remember the good old days when we would rewatch our favorite films over and over again? I literally can not tell you how many times I have seen Clerks.

Under the Silver Lake is the exception to this rule. While it has been over a week since I watched it, I am still unsure if I loved it or hated it. One thing I can tell you though is that it is incredibly entertaining and a cinematic blast from the past. For that reason alone, I was simply blown away by director David Robert Mitchell's bold audacity to conjure up the craziness that is Under the Silver Lake.

Set in an East L.A. neighborhood, Andrew Garfield's Sam thinks that he finds love at first sight, only to find that the girl of his dreams has literally disappeared overnight. As he sets out to solve the mystery of his missing dream girl, Sam uncovers a litany of bizarre and crazy things that would make any conspiracy nut blush.

If I had to describe this film in simple terms, Under the Silver Lake is what would happen if a David Lynch film and a Alfred Hitchcock hooked up and had a baby. In some ways, it really reminded me of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang on crack. And that's saying something. It's basically the NC-17 version of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang that we never knew that we needed in our life.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell is still a young filmmaker with Under the Silver Lake as his third film and yet by watching his films, you get a sense that he's a born storyteller. Best known for this horror film It Follows, Mitchell also wrote and directed The Myth of the American Sleepover which demonstrates his versatility to craft tales in several different genres.

The one pervasive quality in all of David Robert Mitchell's films is his penchant for showing uncomfortable and shocking scenes to convey his thoughts. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he's on the same level as Todd Solondz in terms of weird and shocking, but if you're a fan of Solondz' work, then you will definitely want to check out Mitchell's filmography.

While there were numerous wonderful performances in Under the Silver Lake, the standout for me was the lead Andrew Garfield. Thanks to his turn as Spider-Man, he has sort of cultivated a squeaky clean image. Suffice to say, Garfield obliterates that image in the opening few moments of the movie. In fact, there's a fun little Easter Egg for fans of his where he gets a Spider-Man comic book stuck to his hand.

Not only does Garfield shed his altar boy persona, but he demonstrates a comedic range that I wasn't sure that he could carry. Of course, the role of Sam is complicated, even if his main motivation in life is to get laid with whomever he is with at the moment. Garfield does a great job carrying that balance of the absurd with his quest to make sense of the wackiness surrounding him.

Another fascinating part of the movie was the music and score. A full orchestral score is present at times to give the film more weight than it deserves. The result is David Robert Mitchell is able to convey a tone consistent with the noir thriller that he is creating. There is even a bonus feature about the music in the film that highlights the work of composer Disasterpeace and I highly recommend that you check it out.

There's a subplot involving popular music and hidden messages found therein that is both interesting and bizarre. Needless to say, music drives Under the Silver Lake and it is as crazy as the film that it supports. In fact, this is one of those movies in which the music/soundtrack becomes almost like a character driving plot and emotion.

After all of the effusive praise, it's hard to believe that I would find fault with Under the Silver Lake, but it's certainly not perfect. At times, the film is sloppy, partly on purpose and partly due to a light editor's touch. Although like any good ambitious filmmaker Mitchell takes the story to the edge and pushes it far beyond. At times, it works well. At others, it just misses. Either way, Under the Silver Lake is a movie that relishes in the dirty underbelly of L.A. culture and we are simply along for the ride.

If you're looking for something completely different than the latest forgettable blockbuster, you won't find a more interesting film than Under the Silver Lake. I always say that the sign of a good movie is its ability to capture your imagination and to stick with you long after you watch it. It's been over a week and I can't get it out of my head, for better or worse.

Under the Silver Lake is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.