David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake had been pushed back so many times before A24 decided to quietly release it in limited theaters and VOD earlier this year. On one hand, it’s pretty clear why they did it. The film kind of overstays its welcome with a 139-minute runtime, and several shots appear onscreen that make you question the motive for showing something that was not needed. It’s a bit of a self-indulgent tribute to the Hollywood nightlife and to the noir genre under which it’s categorized. But after sitting on it for a few days, there’s something about the movie that makes me want to give it another go-around, and I kind of wish I saw it in theaters to be engrossed in its rich atmosphere.
Andrew Garfield plays Sam, an unemployed stoner living in an apartment complex in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. He’s so far behind on rent that his landlord is threatening eviction. Rather than desperately seeking work, he is enjoying eye-balling his always topless next-door neighbor. He also has a supposed girlfriend but has very little interest in her other than sex. One day, he spots a blonde bombshell named Sarah (Riley Keough) walking around in a bikini with her little dog. She’s cute, and, almost immediately, Sam wants to get to know her more. After some chit-chat, Sam starts to like her and is looking forward to spending the next day with her. Suddenly, she disappears - gone without a trace. Sam goes into full detective mode to uncover all the clues about her disappearance and meets a bunch of other quirky characters in the big city.
Like the main character himself, Under the Silver Lake meanders from one place to another with no clear focus. As Sam wanders around the city trying to uncover all the clues, the viewer is also slowly trying to not only piece the mystery together, but also get a full grasp on what the movie is trying to say. It steeps deeply into references from Marilyn Monroe to Alfred Hitchcock and even more current pop culture without making a lot of it seem baseless. Mitchell has a blast with a lot of it, making Sarah look very Monroe-like with the beauty mark and hairstyle.
There are a lot of interesting characters that come across Sam’s path, as he tries to figure out what happened to Sarah. A lot of them aren’t given actual names in the credits listing, with the exception of those that belong to a wealthy family and the subplot of its patriarch vanishing. That itself doesn’t really get in the way of the film, but it serves as an intriguing side piece to Sam’s investigation.
Under the Silver Lake is an oddball commentary on Los Angeles and also a strange yet fascinating tribute to the city itself. While Sam is a rather immoral character, Garfield excels at capturing someone who is a lowlife and yet is able to somehow attract a lot of beautiful women. Mitchell may have gone a little overboard on some scenes, such as a CGI squirrel falling out of a tree and looking like it has something to say to Sam. But that’s part of what makes the movie so interesting.
The DVD for Under the Silver Lake comes in a 16x9 presentation with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Although a lot of the film looks digitized, some of the scenery is beautiful to look at and the haziness of the film is captured excellently in the transfer. The 5.1 audio track captures Disasterpiece’s trippy score well, and that soundtrack is something I’d listen to by itself. It’s that good. The only special features on the disc are “What Lies Under the Silver Lake,” which looks at the production design of the film and “Beautiful Specter,” which talks about the use of music in the movie.
Under the Silver Lake is not an easy recommendation, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who will truly hate it for its self-indulgent, messy style. I’m certainly no fan of that approach, either, but there’s something about Mitchell’s film that has me wanting to look at it more and see where all the pieces fit. I’m sure somewhere down the road, there will be a cult following for this movie. But only time will tell.