Movie Review : Under the Silver Lake (2018)
Common wisdom wants that conspiracy theories are for underachievers and crazy people. That it’s a way for them to rationalize their failures and blame them on somebody. But they do make life more entertaining and dramatic. According to David Robert Mitchell’s latest movie Under the Silver Lake, it’s much more exciting to live inside one if you’re a confused, directionless young man, even if it might not have any bearing on your life. Oh, and it’s pretty fucking great, too. This movie was originally supposed to drop six months ago, but it was worth the wait.
Under the Silver Lake tells the story of Sam (Andrew Garfield), a horny slacker spending his days snooping on his neighbors. That’s how he discovers Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious young woman sunbathing next to his apartment building pool. The two spend one evening together, which is interrupted by Sarah’s roommates before they get a chance to do anything. The next day, she disappears. They all disappear and they apartment is wiped clean. Finally given a purpose, Sam sets off across L.A to find her and stumbles upon the weirdest, most intricate conspiracy instead.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil the conspiracy theory: 1) it’s way too cool if you’re into that sort of stuff and 2) it’s not really what Under the Silver Lake is about. It’s an existential coming-of-age movie masquerading as a mystery. Sam uses his investigation to give himself purpose and pull himself out of a rut. It’s never clear where it’s going to lead him, but it doesn’t matter. Anywhere, but his current state of emotional isolation will do. Sarah represents the future for Sam. A future he’s willing to fight the present in order to secure. The existential subtext gives Under the Silver Lake emotional depth, even if the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Under the Silver Lake’s balance of over-the-top humorous themes and more serious existential issues is what makes it so unique and original. Writer and director David Robert Mitchell goes to great lengths to constantly remind you everyone involves is human and flawed. There’s a beautiful, hilarious scene where Sam lets his emotions get the best of himself after his car gets vandalized and confronts one of the biggest contemporary movie taboos in consequence. That’ll have you either go all-in (this is where I did) or mentally check out of Under the Silver Lake.
This is what makes it so successful and different from other conspiracy theory movies. It’s oddly humane. It’s filled with people chasing happiness and fulfillment instead of power. Those who decide to chase it become corrupt and miserable, which is illustrated in a pretty cartoony manner in the songwriter scenes, but it’s theoretically not wrong. The songwriter is arguably the most important person in contemporary music, but he’s become extremely bitter for not having any recognition. A sneaky theme of Under the Silver Lake is being attuned to your desires: knowing who you are and what you want.
I loved Under the Silver Lake as much as I anticipated. It’s an original and powerful movie that gracefully achieves what it’s aiming to do while keeping a sense of humor about itself. There’s really no higher calling than that, if you ask me. It’s profound, humane, nuanced and thoroughly funny. David Robert Mitchell got a lot of attention with his sophomore feature It Follows in 2014, but Under the Silver Lake surpasses it in every possible way: it’s smarter, more subtle and doesn’t give everything away halfway through. And I have a gut feeling that this one’s going to age like fine wine. There’s just too much material to take in on first viewing.
* I debated giving it a perfect score. But I thought it had minor pacing issues and could’ve shaved a good 15 minutes out of its final run time. I might change my mind on second viewing, though.