Under the Silver Lake movie review: David Robert Mitchell's film is ambitious but the script lacks proper finishing

Mihir Fadnavis

Dec 07, 2018 10:26:36 IST


Under the Silver Lake, if anything, seems like director David Robert Mitchell’s answer to the criticism he received for his debut film It Follows. If not much happened in that film and the protagonist did not have any idea what was happening – in this film there are answers everywhere he looks – even wrong ones. This is a film with a lot of ambition on its mind, but it does not quite become the sum of its individual parts. It sure is fascinating in spurts, but there is some energy that is lacking that makes you wish the script received another coat of polish.

Andrew Garfield in a still from Under the Silver Lake. YouTube

Andrew Garfield in a still from Under the Silver Lake. YouTube

Andrew Garfield plays Sam, a typically handsome Los Angeles bloke who does nothing much apart from soaking in the golden rays of the sun and getting stoned. He falls for his next door neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) and like good old Californians they watch movies and get stoned together. The two decide to meet again but much to Sam’s surprise, Sarah goes missing and her apartment is clean as a whistle. Sam quickly turns into a DIY detective and prowls through LA to find the girl of his dreams, as clues seem to lead him into a whole shoal of red herrings.

This is a great looking and sounding film, and anyone who appreciated the craft of It Follows will find much to admire about Mitchell’s eye for interesting imagery. The look and feel, unfortunately is the only genuinely memorable thing about this film. Much like Sam himself, everything else in the film is a hot mess. The film teases traditional detective elements, and a whodunit is as great a subgenre as they come, but Mitchell, who also wrote the script, does not quite figure out what route to take with the tone. On one hand, there is a subversive conspiracy theory skewering as a call
to arms for armchair geniuses on the internet who think they can solve any mystery out there – this should ideally be executed with comedy especially because Sam is a character with zero redeeming qualities. During two moments the film does offer giggles, but then it does embrace Sam’s self proclaimed genius and asks the audience to give a damn about a loser making bizarre judgments and stumbling upon actual discoveries. This isn’t resolute storytelling, because Sam is a white guy who does not like homeless people (among other horrible qualities), so instead of enjoying Sam’s journey into the unknown one tends to despise his persona even when he accidentally chances upon doing the right thing.

The tactic of putting a racist scumbag as a protagonist worked in In Bruges because the Colin Farrell character had an arc and a genuine redeeming quality as the film progressed, both of which are missing here. In Under the Silver Lake, Sam’s process of interacting with the unstable and the unsure, being both of those things himself makes for a tiresome jaunt into procedural crime. The script may have strangeness but it lacks the have rhythm that makes Sam’s detective work more about squally elucidation with characters we barely meet or visits to hazy oddball LA nooks. The pacing is slow, and Mitchell savours every uninteresting moment to the indulgent extreme, lacking the cohesiveness to align the thriller and drama elements together. The end result is a rambling Sam asking you to give a damn when he himself does not make an effort to do so.

This is not a bad movie per se. It is just a disappointing one given the canvas Mitchell was given this time. It is ultimately a more interesting streaming watch over pot given the blur of rabbit holes Sam discovers in the film; said pot closes the gap between the film and the audience for the dramatic nourishment that the story lacks.

Updated Date: Dec 07, 2018 10:26:36 IST