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MOVIES: Under the Silver Lake - Review

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A love letter to classic sun-drenched LA-set noir movies with a seedy undercurrent of the horror genre lurking beneath it, It's no surprise to see that Mubi, the film's UK distributor, are currently airing a feature of similiar films on their carefully curated streaming service available for UK subscribers (members also get a free ticket to watch Under the Silver Lake in cinemas for one week). You can find the likes of David Lynch's magnum opus Mulholland Drive and John Carpenter's cult classic They Live available to stream, two films that no doubt had some degree of influence over the latest feature from writer/director David Robert Mitchell, the mastermind behind horror sensation It Follows. Unlike It Follows however, Under the Silver Lake is set to be much more divisive, coming in at a daunting 139 minutes in length that makes it a challenging viewing experience.

The main character in this film is Sam, an unemployed, down on his luck character played by Andrew Garfield, who as ever, is in excellent form, taking up the majority of the screentime and delivering depth to his character, who spends much of the movie thinking that he's the protagonist when he's someone who arguably, isn't, having echoes of characters like Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and Nightcrawler's Lou Bloom. Sam hasn't really grown up from adolescence, preferring to believe that everything is connected and there has to be a reason for it all as he struggles to put the pieces together behind a potentially grand conspiracy that's been around as long as Hollywood has. It's a film that's covered in the rich culture of LA, but Green's vision of the city is one that looks very different to that in most other films, opting for its own, unique approach. It's certainly nails the different feeling that the film has to it, that's for sure, and it will likely end up being one of the most surreal films that you will see all year.

The film opens with Sam spending time with a girl way out of his league in her apartment after befriending her dog, but their date is ended prematurely and she asks him to come back and see her tomorrow. Naturally, an eager Sam returns the next day only to find an empty apartment, the occupants having cleared out, and a mysterious symbol on the walls. The symbol leads him from one conspiracy to another, all centred around the iconic location of the Silver Lake. The neo-noir feel runs heavily in this film and it's not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve (there's a scene set near the observatory featured prominently in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land). It seems like this is going to be a simple homage at first but it becomes weirder and more complex as the minutes turn into hours, and the mystery gets all the stranger. There are several moments of this film that were confusing, and it's almost too much to take in on one viewing. A fair warning, this is not one for dog fans - one of the many mysteries found in the heart of the Silver Lake includes a twisted, nameless animal murderer, with graffiti spray-painted on the road warning residents to "Beware the Dog Killer". And on top of that, it's also worth mentioning that it's not a film for those who, like Sam - are looking for answers, as few are given.

Whilst it's a shame to see the film seemingly buried by A24 in the United States as there is promise there, it never really fulfils that promise. There is a lack of a sense of purpose to be found in Under the Silver Lake, and it boils down to being a movie about nothing. It feels almost too repetitive in its structure at times and whilst it is self-aware of what film it is and what it's going for, it never quite holds up when compared against the films that it tries to imitate and never really goes anywhere, leaving the audience to question what the whole point was in the experience. There is a cool meta moment (in a film filled with them) where Garfield throws a Spider-Man comic away from him in a fit of anger, a touch too on the nose perhaps - which when asked about it by the audience in the resulting Q&A that followed at the wonderful Prince Charles Cinema in London, not only did he say that the scene was not written with him in mind, he suggested that he would one day write a book about his experiences in The Amazing Spider-Man movies. And I'd read it, as it seems like he has a lot to say about that topic.

The film shines in its quieter moments but is let down by its more bombastic ones. It's almost certainly set to be a cult favourite and it quickly becomes clear that it's very much a love or a hate it type of film, with little room for middle ground, and the sort of the film that is going to stay with you long after you watch it. It feeds into people's subconscious thoughts and suggests that there is more out there among classic films and music than anyone could have imagined, but at the end of the day, it serves as a warning almost of a different kind, making it clear that everyone, even Sam, is a protagonist in their own head, and that can sometimes lead to disastrous results with even the best of intentions.

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