Opinion: “Under The Silver Lake” (2018)

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 ticket
Here’s my ticket, for those of you who do not believe me. It’s taken during the credits.

Under the Silver Lake Tones

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.

Under the Silver Lake Characters

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.

Under the Silver Lake Conclusion

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.

18 thoughts on “Opinion: “Under The Silver Lake” (2018)

  1. This sounds like it’s worth a watch, especially when you describe Andrew Garfield’s performance in such glowing terms. I’ll try to catch it later this year. You’re lucky to get such a jump on North America!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I know! There’s a rumor that the film’s being pushed back so they can re-edit it, but that doesn’t explain why we already have it in theaters over here. When it hits theaters in Canada, though, I really recommend you watch it, especially if you’re into more unique films.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This review reinforces how much I am looking forward to seeing David Robert Mitchell’s latest film. I am so jealous you got to see this over there in Belgium, way ahead of us here the US. You have given me a lot to try and look for when I see this… Dec 7th (Ugh 😒)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For some reason, we’re all of a sudden getting a bunch of films earlier, like Burning, this one, and yesterday I was even able to see Utoya-22 July (the Norwegian film). Though when it’s finally December 7th I thoroughly recommend you watch it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would have liked the story better if the supporting characters had been more well-defined. But still a fun ride and as you say a unique and unconventional film. The question he gets asked about “how’s work” is the funniest part for me. Has been written the film is a look at the lack of mystery in modern times and the need for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s fine that the side characters are rather underdeveloped, as now we really get to focus on the protagonist. He is after all the centerpiece of the film, and we do not spend a lot of time with other characters in the first place. I would love to see it again some time. I bet there are a ton of things that went over my head and I think I’ll love it, even more, a second time around!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review. You reinforced my belief in this film. Previously, I have kind of decided not to watch, but now I think I will.
    Can I just ask if you can be from Belgium? It is nice to meet someone interested in films and writing in English from Belgium. I lived in Brussels for two years, but left in 2016. I still miss that place a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re going to see it, I recommend you do on the big screen; it really enhances the experience!

      And yes, I’m from Belgium :). Was planning on studying in Brussels, but as I didn’t get excepted, I went to Antwerp instead. I really prefer Brussels over Antwerp, as there’s something beautiful there that I can’t quite put my finger on.

      And sorry for the late response!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope I am going to watch the movie on a big screen, thanks for the advice. I guess Brussels is more multicultural, but I remember I found Antwerp rather beautiful too when I visited it for one day. I am actually looking right now at the reproduction of a painting of the Cathedral of Antwerp which I bought when I visited the Cathedral some years ago. I have it framed 🙂
        Btw, English is also not my native language, so I know how it is writing in another language.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One day is all you need in Antwerp :). Have you tried driving there? It’s the worst. In Brussels, you might have a lot of traffic, but in Antwerp, you can seemingly stop wherever you want, and other drives then have to drive on the tram tracks. Also, those tram tracks are incredibly dangerous for cyclists; one of the reasons why I walk to school instead of cycle, the other is just that I’m too lazy. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, though. And may I ask where you’re from?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I have never car driven anywhere in Belgium (I walked and took a tube in Brussels), and I can only guess how difficult it must be. I like trams when I take them and never even considered that side of them which you describe – now I will know 🙂 Yes, I liked Antwerp, and Ghent also – I visited both for just one day. I found Antwerp on a quiet side, but maybe I visited it on Sunday, I cannot recall. I am originally from Russia, but have lived in the UK now for 15 years – on and off since I also lived in Italy (and Belgium obviously) for some time.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You must’ve been lucky while visiting Antwerp! Usually, it’s very busy. Maybe you visited in January/June since then we poor students have our exams 🙂

        And you’ve seemingly lived everywhere haha! That’s pretty cool. I’ve been wanting to go to Russia for quite some time now, but I haven’t been able to convince my mom and sister, as I don’t really know what else there’s to see except for a handful of cities and historical sites, and they both don’t like history or cities. My dad does, though; just got to find a way to convince my mom and sister :).
        It must’ve sucked looking for a new job every time you moved, but you do get to interact with a bunch of different cultures which is cool. Is there a country that you prefer?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s great to hear you want to visit Russia, I never had that thrill to explore Russia and I guess it is because being Russian that country is not “exotic” enough for me 🙂
    Italy is my preferred country, but in comparison with my other languages I know Italian the least. I lived in Florence for awhile, what a dolce vita there – in spring and summer – that’s paradise on earth for me because I like culture and history and every street there was like a museum 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get the feeling of not wanting to explore your own country; it baffles me that people even want to visit Belgium haha

      I love Italy as well; such a beautiful country. Haven’t visited Florence, though. We’ve only been to Rome and last year I went to Naples and some surrounding cities with school.

      Liked by 1 person

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