Under the Silver Lake (2018) ☆☆(2/4): A messy and insipid neo-noir piece

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David Robert Mitchell’s second feature film “Under the Silver Lake” bored me a lot. While I surely understand that it tries be a quirky neo-noir film as juggling so many different things together during its 139-minute running time, this messy and insipid neo-noir piece is utterly devoid of style and personality, and it is really depressing to see how aimlessly and tediously the movie drifts from one moment to another without leaving much impression on the whole.

When we are introduced to its young hero Sam (Andrew Garfield), he is languidly going through his miserable daily life in Silver Lake, California. While he has been unemployed for some time, he has also fallen behind in his rent for several months, and he is already warned that he will be evicted from his current residence after 5 days if he does not pay the rent as demanded. This is indeed a desperate situation, but he is not particularly willing to take care of this problem of his as hopelessly mired in frustration and desperation, and he is only interested in having a sneak peek on a female neighbor who does not mind being topless as taking care of her birds.

While he is watching on that female neighbor, someone else happens to draw Sam’s attention, and that is Sarah (Riley Keough), a young woman who recently moved to a nearby spot along with her roommates. When she comes to notice Sam watching her from the distance, she is not surprised or offended at all, and she even invites him to her residence, though their private moment does not turn out to be as long as he wants.

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It looks like Sam can get closer to Sarah in next time, but she is suddenly gone along with her roommates on the very next day. Understandably perplexed by this sudden disappearance, Sam tries to find anything which can lead him to wherever she is, but things only get more confusing for him as he comes across a bunch of weird things which, along with the recent mysterious disappearance of a famous billionaire, seem to imply that something insidious is going on around him. For example, there is a popular band whose certain song may contain some hidden message, and there is also an underground comic book series which describes a number of disturbing things including a masked female assassin and a guy killing dogs just for his twisted spite.

Sam later goes to the creator of that underground comic book series, who surely has lots of things to tell as your average paranoid. This guy has kept trying to find something hidden somewhere in their neighborhood, and he is also quite afraid of what may happen to him because of his obsessive search. According to him, many things in his underground comic book series are real, and he particularly emphasizes on that masked female assassin, who will kill anyone who dares to approach to the truth out there.

Sam gradually comes to realize the possibility of a big peril coming upon him, but he becomes more obsessed with finding hidden codes and messages from numerous things around him. At one point, he manages to extract a cryptic message from the aforementioned song, and that subsequently leads him to an outrageous moment of revelation involved with many popular pop songs. As expected, that famous billionaire’s disappearance turns out to be connected with what he has been investigating, and we later get a preposterous moment as he eventually finds a definite clue from an old cereal box.

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However, these and many other things in the story do not get mixed together well enough to hold our attention, and the movie often suffers from its thin narrative and bland characterization. Although Andrew Garfield is a talented actor as shown from “Boy A” (2007) and “The Social Network” (2010), his fairly good effort here in the film is frequently limited by his flat and uninteresting character, and it is also quite disappointing to see many of other performers in the film stuck in their cardboard characters who do not have much life and personality to engage us. While Riley Keough manages to acquit herself well at least, I must say that she and several other actresses in the film seem to be chosen mainly for their good-looking physical appearance, and the movie is sometimes unpleasant to watch as their supporting characters are presented as nothing more than the objects of desire for its hero.

In case of its technical aspects, the movie looks as slick and stylish as required on the surface, but Mitchell and his crew members unfortunately fail to bring enough tension or intrigue to the screen. While the cinematography by Michael Gioulakis surely fills the screen with some noirish touches, they mostly feel as blatant as numerous references to a number of classic films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), and the score by Disasterpiece is adamantly overblown as trying very hard to emulate the scores by Bernard Herrmann and Angelo Badalamenti.

Overall, “Under the Silver Lake”, which had a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year but only got released in US more than 10 months later, is a major letdown compared to Mitchell’s previous film “It Follows” (2014), which I chose as one of the best films of 2015. While that movie is reminiscent of many other films including the works of John Carpenter as much as “Under the Silver Lake” reminds us of “Mulholland Dr.” (2001) and “Inherent Vice” (2014), it is pretty impressive nonetheless for its substantial style and personality, and, to be frank with you, I am now seriously considering revisiting it.

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