Under the Silver Lake (***1/2) – Jesus wouldn’t hide a message in a message

Under the Silver Lake – 2019

Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Callie Hernandez, Don McManus, Jeremy Bobb, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet, Patrick Fischler, Grace Van Patten, Jimmi Simpson, David Yow

“It’s silly wasting your energy on something that doesn’t matter.” Balloon Girl

Under the Silver Lake is one of the more ambitious films of the year. It’s the kind of film that is exhausting. Every person who crosses paths with our protagonist Sam (Garfield) is there to deliver a message intended to move the story forward. The result is a sort of labyrinthine paranoid drug trip.

Mitchell’s first effort, after It Follows lacks the intensity and focus of that film. The dread is still there, but it’s in the shape of aimless youth wandering around Hollywood like the kids from The Great Gatsby. The story we’re familiar with is Sam (a meandering young man who spends time most of us would use to pay the bills searching after conspiracy.

When one of his new neighbors (Keough) moves out the day after he meets with her and shares half of a night with her. He is convinced that foul play is involved and he starts to investigate in the manner of a younger, less funny Lebowski.

We’re given a series of images and stories involving dog killers, an Owl Woman, poltergeists on the edge of society and a whole lot more. Given this is a movie about the images of Hollywood, we get to see Sam neglect some women, objectify others and pursue those who are unaware he exists.

In his obsession we see him do some pretty astounding things all without a real thought. His effort is everything to him. That this is a direct reflection of the people he thinks are responsible for her disappearance never occurs to Sam. In a world of haves and have nots, they have her and he has an eviction notice pending.

In a sense, the vacant, invisible terror pursuing the kids in It Follows is present here. The horror is in the fact that it already consumed Sam and everyone surrounding him. The difference is, some people realize it before he does. They are in a position to take advantage of it, and they do.

Garfield is good in a performance that would test the limits of any actor. His eyes betray a vulnerability that his actions don’t always match. He is clothed in an ignorance, like NEO from The Matrix. He just doesn’t have anyone there to guide him as clearly as Morpheus.

This film will not be for most people, I suspect. It doesn’t give up its secrets, even when Mitchell lays them in the open for everyone to see. It’s like we’re bludgeoned with data. It takes time to process.

‘These images are seen by everyone.’ as we’re told by the poor, doomed Comic Fan (Fischler). ‘They are not meant to be understood by everyone.’ And that symbol? It means stay quiet.

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