Review: Under the Silver Lake

Andrew Garfield in Under the Silver Lake

Courtesy of A24

Director David Robert Mitchell’s surreal LA fantasy is probably beloved by the same people who bang on about the intellectual merits of Infinite Jest.

RATING: 2.5/5

It would be tempting to call David Robert Mitchell’s film Under the Silver Lake an incel noir if it weren’t for the fact that, somewhat inexplicably, its central slacker-stoner character is irresistible to women. Call it science-fiction, then, or fantasy: a shaggy-dog-story in which more than one dumb, shaggable woman is depicted barking like a dog, it is nominally a movie about what might happen if a Very Online man from Reddit found himself air-dropped into a Lynch film, and, more accurately, one about the difficulty of critiquing Hollywood’s objectification of women by lingering on innumerable tits and asses, but ironically.

Its central character, Sam, is played capably by Andrew Garfield as a leering, comic-reading, video-game-playing voyeur whose obsessive interest in conspiracies and number theories pays off when his hot neighbour ends up disappearing in the middle of the night. The world he occupies (a hipsterish LA scene far less wacky than the film presumes it is) looks gorgeous, is populated by good-looking people, and feels roughly five years out of date.

Under the Silver Lake is perhaps most frustrating for the fact that it is not a total failure: it has in some moments the same freewheeling, stretched-elastic vibe as Paul Thomas Anderson’s perfect and surreal Inherent Vice, and a tremendous score that feels authentically like something from the golden age of noir.

It Follows, Mitchell’s last film, proved that he is capable of brilliance and inventiveness as a writer-director. It proved, too, that he knows how to focus his attention on the story of a girl – to focus the attention of his camera on her body in a swimsuit, even – and not fuck it up. By the time Sam has uncovered the coded mysteries of Los Angeles, we have seen enough slow-talking, half-clothed babes to fill a casting call by Michael Bay, and by the time the movie’s genuinely interesting class satire has unfolded, it’s evident that Mitchell is more interested in skewering certain social inequalities than others. It’s unclear whether we’re meant to see the nerdy white guy with binoculars as the symptom or the disease. His sleazy outlook is explained in the 11th hour by the fact his girlfriend dumped him, which might be a credible excuse, if it weren’t the same one typically employed by MRAs who shoot up schools.

Under the Silver Lake is released April 19

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