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With: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Grace Van Patten, Jimmi Simpson, Zosia Mamet, Jeremy Bobb, Don McManus, David Yow, Patrick Fischler, Riki Lindhome
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language throughout and some drug use
Running Time: 139
Date: 04/19/2019

Under the Silver Lake (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

L.A. Existential

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

David Robert Mitchell's follow-up to his stunning It Follows plays out on a huge, unwieldy, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink canvas, bold and baffling, possibly great, but possibly a great folly.

In Under the Silver Lake, unemployed Sam (Andrew Garfield) lives a do-nothing existence in his Hollywood apartment, obsessed with secret codes hidden in pop culture and with peering at his neighbors through binoculars. One day he sees Sarah (Riley Keough) in the swimming pool and becomes fascinated by her. She invites him over for an evening, but when he returns the next day, she has vanished, moved out in the middle of the night.

He begins investigating, coming upon many strange clues, such as a serial dog killer, a mysterious 'zine, an old cereal box, Janet Gaynor, a dead billionaire, and a rock band that may have clues hidden among its song lyrics. As Sam drifts through a surreal Los Angeles, following leads — and getting sprayed by a skunk — he discovers mysteries deeper, and stranger, than anything he ever imagined. (It vividly recalls David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, even before Patrick Fischler turns up in a small role.)

Under the Silver Lake feels like a sophomore slump, even though this is actually Mitchell's third movie (The Myth of the American Sleepover was his debut feature); it's like an effort to overcome writer's block by free-associating images and ideas and sticking them all in, without discernment, without restraint. (It made me think of Richard Kelly's equally bizarre, bulky Southland Tales, a follow-up to his more compact Donnie Darko.) It's also a long movie with many, many characters, some of whom occasionally return and others that are only seen once. First-time viewers might even want to take notes.

However, Mitchell's touch behind the camera is sure and confident, and he creates a wonderfully dreamy, languid cityscape, filled with dreamers and oddballs. The wide, beautifully-composed images create a mood that you almost want to breathe in, and the sound design — and a fine score by Disasterpiece — is delightfully mysterious and imaginative.

Casting Garfield was a brilliant touch; his general amiability helps us latch onto this character and makes us want to continue following him, even as his adventures grow more and more bizarre, and more starkly pessimistic. Under the Silver Lake leaves off with a bit of a strange, sour note, but it's not easily forgotten, and perhaps cryptic enough to revisit.

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