David Robert Mitchell’s UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is a cult classic in the making. It’s a major departure from his last film, the brilliant horror story IT FOLLOWS. The premise of IT FOLLOWS was terrifyingly simple, as people are followed by a murderous force that kills them unless they pass it to someone else. This new movie is, by design, a sprawling what’s it of a movie.
Paranoid amateur sleuth Sam, played by Andrew Garfield, wants to know why Sarah (Riley Keough) disappeared with no warning. His investigation finds plenty of clues, but that’s a problem. Everything Sam discovers points him in a different direction. Some discoveries link back to each other, but just as often they hint at some new massive conspiracy. All of the clues, connected or stray, pull Sam deeper into the hidden societies within Los Angeles.
Here’s why UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is already well on the way to cult status.
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE juggles many genres. It’s a farce, a romantic comedy, a thriller and even at times a horror film on par with IT FOLLOWS. At its heart, however, it’s a detective story. The English crime novelist P.D. James wrote, “What the detective story is about is not murder, but the restoration of order.”
Think of the great detective films: THE BIG SLEEP, THE LONG GOODBYE, THE BIG LEBOWSKI or GONE BABY GONE. They all open with a disruption. Sometimes, it’s a terrifying one, as in the abduction of Amanda McCready in GONE BABY GONE. Sometimes, it’s just deeply irritating, like the vandalism of the Dude’s rug in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The detective tries to bring things back into balance.
Sam is an unemployed stoner fascinated with ephemeral popular culture and its artifacts. He’s closer to Jeff Bridges’ amiable the Dude than Humphrey Bogart’s cool and driven Philip Marlowe. Unfortunately, he’s a paranoid wreck who doesn’t quite understand why his soul hurts. Sam’s affability and personal failings — and the ways they combine with the story’s nest of maybe-conspiracies — are the heart of the film’s cult appeal.
What Is Normal?
Sarah didn’t vanish just because she wanted to. The people privy to her disappearance run the gamut from affable to terrifying and possibly inhuman. While Sam has the Dude’s easy slacker vibe, the mystery around him is closer to the sinister horrors of GONE BABY GONE — or something even more strange. Drop Sam into that environment, and you’ve got an ideal midnight movie.
Sam may want things to go back to normal. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, however, argues that normality is an illusion at best. There’s always something going on somewhere: an angle, a hustle, a nightmare or a dream. Sam’s investigation isn’t just fragmented because he’s an oddball running himself ragged. It’s fragmented because UNDER THE SILVER LAKE’s Los Angeles is an endless maze of clashing ideas and dueling conspiracies.
This movie is a real experience and a spiral of energy. Director David Robert Mitchell blends paranoia with humor, terror with warmth, and a relentless downpour of information with something that eventually resembles peace. It’s a zonked-out, nerdy film that will easily earn a cult following. Heck, it can even count at least one genuine cult amidst its many strange forces! UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is a shaggy, entertaining journey into the impossible corners of Los Angeles — it’s a path well worth following.
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE opens in limited theatres on April 19.