When Under the Silver Lake got mixed reviews at Cannes, I became slightly worried, though when YMS talked positively about it, I became cautiously optimistic. I really liked the director’s previous film, It Follows, the cast was filled with great actors, and the main premise seemed interesting; it had a lot of things going for it, but somehow it turned out to be quite divisive. Due to those mixed reactions, the film was pushed back to November in the US, while for some reason we over here in Belgium kept that August 15th release date. I have no clue why that happened, but I’m not complaining since I absolutely loved the film.
Under the Silver Lake is one of most unique films I’ve ever seen, due to a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the very odd tone it carries. Early on in the film, this tone is already established by having a dead squirrel look up to Andrew Garfield’s character in the most dramatic way possible. From that point on, you know that you’re in for a unique experience, and from that point on, the film carries a very playful atmosphere. Said atmosphere wouldn’t’ve worked if the film wasn’t self-aware, but it most certainly is. It’s a dark and funny film that has an odd sense of humor, like a Lanthimos type film, but not really. It’s its own thing, rather than a carbon copy of something else, which makes it hard to describe. The film’s a mixture of a bunch of things, but it all works perfectly. It’s a mishmash of different genres and tones, but Mitchell manages to balance them brilliantly. It’s mostly a mystery, but it’s also an unconventional comedy, drama, and romance. Surprisingly, it manages to fulfill all of the requirements of being those things, and still stay gripping. It’s also a film that pays homage to film in general, in terms of plot, music and visual presentation.
The soundtrack on its own is fantastic, but I really liked how they used it in the film. It was often very epic and grandiose, while the things depicted on screen were pretty mundane, giving scenes that odd and comedic feeling while also enforcing the weird tone the film has. The score is very reminiscent of music used in 60’s mysteries, and that also goes for the plot. The film has a complex and interesting story, involving lots of twists, odd discoveries, and unusual characters. The way it unravels keeps you on the edge of your seat, and you’re constantly wondering how things are going to wrap up. How characters acted and reacted felt slightly unnatural, but again reminiscent of how they did in old noir style films. After a while, I got worried that they’d never be able to end this mystery satisfyingly, but once again it subverted my expectations and it ended brilliantly. When the film ends, you’re given the answers you need to solve the biggest questions you had during the film, but you’re also left with enough information to fill in the blanks for unexplained things.
Visually this film is stunning as well. David Robert Mitchell made use of a ton of interesting camera techniques that made the film visually very distinct. He was creative in the way that he moved the camera, but also in the sense of what lens to use, or how to distort images to achieve the wanted effect. He attached the camera to the actor, used quick swipes and unsteady, fast, and interesting camera movements to symbolize the character’s paranoia. Every technique was used to its fullest effect and right when it was needed. There were tons of details hidden in frames, that have me eager to watch it again, to spot the ones I didn’t catch on my first run through. The film’s filled with gorgeously composited, lit and well-thought-out shots, but there’s one in particular that stood out to me the most. It’s a shot of Andrew Garfield walking in a painting, to pay homage to the early era of filmmaking where they used paintings as backgrounds. It’s quite subtle but absolutely stunning, and creative and it again ties into one of the films overarching themes; paying homage to all eras of filmmaking. Mitchell was more than creative in visualizing certain things and that it shows that he put in the time and effort to carefully think through how he wanted his film to look. The film’s visual style is completely different from how It Follows was shot, though the director’s background in horror films shines through in a handful of nail-biting sequences.
Not only was the film visually incredible, the editing too was fantastic, using lots of crossfades, which, again, pays homage to older films. Those crossfades in combination with movements being cut out gave the film a very dreamlike feeling as if you’re in someone’s head, who can’t remember everything. This then ties into the main characters constant paranoia, which on its own is criticizing our society by telling us that we all feel like we’re important enough to be stalked by someone, while in reality, we’re just a nobody and not very interesting at all. The film criticizes our society and ways of communicating in numerous ways and it discusses a wide range of different topics, of which it presents a lot metaphorically. Some of them you might catch immediately, while others you might realize a couple of days later like I just did while writing about the character’s paranoia. It’s a nice film you can watch and discuss with your friends after having seen it. Even my friends, who usually aren’t really that interested in talking about a film after it ended, were more than eager to start a discussion.
I’ve already mentioned that the film pays homage to old mystery films and noir type movies, but those are just a few of the genres it references. It pays homage to the grindhouse era via its violence, for example, but also to musicals with one scene in particular where a character is scoring the scene as it is happening, which was really cool and made for one of the best scenes out of the film. It also pays homage to horror films via creepy characters, eerie imagery, and scary dream sequences. It’s a lot, but the film manages to succeed at paying homage to all of those things, while still telling a coherent and compelling story. This is mostly made possible due to the playful and unique tone the film carries, as I believe that this type of tone, gives the filmmaker the possibility to experiment more.
In an odd film like this, it’d come as no surprise that the characters too were rather unconventional. The protagonist isn’t someone who you’d imagine when talking about a protagonist. He’s more of a creepy, unlikeable asshole. He’s flawed and not a particularly nice guy, but that makes him an interesting protagonist, instead of a bland one, without any depth. He undergoes an arc throughout the film, after which he’s still an asshole, but a more developed one. It’s a film that proves that you don’t need a likable, impossibly perfect protagonist to have a fun film; you can have the complete opposite and still end up with an incredibly interesting film, to say the least. What also shouldn’t go unnoticed is Andrew Garfield’s phenomenal performance. It’s one of the best performances he’s ever given, and that says a lot after Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. His performance fitted perfectly with the film’s tone, as he often was very playful, but at other times very dramatic. I know that I’ve complained about drastic tone changes in films before, but here it happens gradually and it’s more balanced, rather than in films like You’re Next where it’s inconsistent with its tones, while in Under the Silver Lake, it constantly carries this playful nature. Garfield might give the best performance out of the bunch, but all of the other actors were amazing as well.
Due to the odd nature of the film and the unconventional protagonist, I can understand why some people wouldn’t like Under the Silver Lake. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but it is one for me. If your taste in movies usually lines up with mine, you’ll probably enjoy it as well. It’s a brilliantly directed, shot, and acted film that’ll most certainly end up on my list of favorite films next year, due to the previously named things, but also due to its uniqueness.