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Review: Under The Silver Lake – “A great neo-noir”

David Robert Mitchell returns with a new film. He made a big splash with It Follows a few years back. The new film is Under the Silver Lake and it played at Cannes last year. It received mixed reviews at the time, with some people comparing it to Southland Tales (not necessarily favourably). While It Follows was like a clever take on a John Carpenter horror film in the Halloween vein, Under the Silver Lake is a complete U-turn from that direction: a neo-noir set in Silver Lake, the hipster part of L.A.

Sam (Andrew Garfield), an unemployed slacker, is way behind on the rent and up against eviction threats and obsessed with conspiracy theories. However, he starts to develop a crush on his new neighbour, Sarah (Riley Keogh). He’s also obsessed with this zine called Under the Silver Lake that depicts strange murders that have been happening. He hangs out with her and her dog Coca-Cola, they get stoned, and Sarah asks Sam to come back the next day—but when he does, she and everything in her flat has disappeared.

In a Hitchcockian plot, he starts to look for any information about what happened to Sarah, which draws him into a world of conspiracies involving pop music, death cults, and a bunch of other bizarre stuff. As it goes along, the story becomes increasingly surreal, and hipster Hollywood gets a skewering.

Garfield has always been good—I’ve liked his work since The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus—and he really owns the film here but then again he has too since he is in every scene. Topher Grace also appears in a small part, who had a real comeback in the last year.

It’s a great movie that wears its influences on its sleeve (film noir, Pynchon, Hitchcock, Mulholland Drive, The Long Goodbye). Sam even wakes up next to Hitchcock’s grave in Hollywood Forever Cemetery after being dosed with something. It uses a part of L.A. that hasn’t appeared much in films, features some odd twists, and a lot of it’s really funny. There’s one scene in a hipster nightclub where “old music night” features “Brimful of Asha” by Cornershop, so very L.A. youth culture. It does a great job of depicting conspiracy nuts really well, and is actually a throwback to old noir films, which has annoyed some “woke” critics who take the fact that he’s following this girl around the wrong way.

It goes nowhere, but that’s the point, as is the case with The Crying of Lot 49. The bits that seem stupid, well, that’s actually deliberate. The finished product is a great neo-noir, and it’s great to see a filmmaker who follows up an indie success with a much more ambitious and ballsy movie—one of the best films of the year in fact—instead of grabbing for the next Marvel or Disney big-bucks project. There’s also an excellent score. At two hours and 20 minutes, it’s so well-paced that the length isn’t a problem.

Under the Silver Lake has had a complicated theatrical release. It was supposed to be out in the US and UK last summer, but was pulled for some reason, only just arriving now. In the meantime, it showed in Europe and there was a Blu-Ray release (I own the French one). This cinematic UK release will be relatively small, so keep an eye out, and it will also arrive on the MUBI streaming service on March 15th.

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