|Under the Silver Lake|
|Directed by||David Robert Mitchell|
|Written by||David Robert Mitchell|
|Edited by||Julio C. Perez IV|
Under the Silver Lake is a 2018 American surrealist neo-noir black comedy mystery film written, produced and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Set in 2011 Los Angeles, it follows a young man (Andrew Garfield) investigating the sudden disappearance of his neighbor (Riley Keough), only to stumble upon an elusive and dangerous conspiracy. Topher Grace also stars.
Under the Silver Lake premiered on May 15, 2018, at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or, before being released nationwide in France on August 8. It was theatrically released in the United States on April 19, 2019, by A24. The film polarized critics; while its originality, direction, soundtrack, cinematography, and Garfield's performance were praised, some found the screenplay confusing, too cryptic, and lacking the substance and depth the film aimed for.
In the summer of 2011, Sam is an aimless 33-year-old in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, interested in conspiracy theories and hidden messages in popular culture, spying and indulging in sexual activities with other women, and uninterested in paying his overdue rent. One morning, Sam sees a news report detailing the disappearance of billionaire Jefferson Sevence. He spies on his mysterious new neighbor, Sarah, who notices him and later gets high with Sam while watching How to Marry a Millionaire. As they begin to kiss, Sarah's two roommates interrupt and Sarah suggests Sam come back the next day. Fireworks go off nearby as they stand outside Sarah’s apartment, and Sam comments that it’s a bit late in the summer for them. For a moment Sarah seems transfixed, before giving him a breathless goodbye.
In the morning, Sam discovers Sarah and her roommates have moved out overnight, and becomes obsessed with learning what happened. He goes to a party and encounters Jefferson's daughter, Millicent, who leaves when news breaks that her father has died. On television, Sam discovers that Jefferson burned to death in a car with three women. He recognizes Sarah's hat at the scene, and a small dog similar to hers is found dead. Meeting up with Comic Fan, the author of comics called Under the Silver Lake, Sam finds out that someone has been watching him and sending him secret messages, warning him to stop investigating.
Throughout his following journey, Sam encounters several strange characters, all of which are seemingly connected to the women's disappearance and the secrets of Los Angeles itself. After decoding a hidden message within the lyrics of a song by Jesus and the Brides of Dracula, Sam makes his way to the Griffith Observatory, where he meets the Homeless King. He takes Sam to a hidden cave before letting him venture alone into a secret bomb shelter.
Sam makes his way back to Comic Fan's house before being notified by the police of his apparent suicide. Sam reviews the footage from Comic Fan's hidden security cameras, and sees a naked woman in an owl mask prowling the premises, suggesting that Comic Fan's death might have not been suicide. With his friend, Allen, Sam goes to a chess party hosted by Jesus and the Brides of Dracula. He attacks Jesus, the lead singer, and violently forces him to reveal that the encrypted songs were mysteriously written by someone he calls the Songwriter. Sam has women lead him to the Songwriter, who reveals that he has encoded many songs with secret messages. He claims that he wrote most of the songs that Sam grew up with, including Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, which was written in the 1820s. After Sam demands to know who paid him to write those songs, the Songwriter attempts to kill him before Sam beats him to death with an electric guitar.
At another party, Sam encounters Millicent again, who knows that she has been followed and wants help to solve Jefferson's death. In the titular Silver Lake, Millicent gives Sam a bracelet with a set of chess moves before they are mysteriously shot at by an unknown group of people. Sam is able to survive but Millicent is fatally shot, dying eerily similar to a vintage Playboy magazine cover that Sam owns as memorabilia. The next morning, Sam realizes that the chess moves were part of a bigger code, discovering that it is a secret map route that Comic Fan believed to be true before his death.
Eventually, Sam finds his way to an off-the-grid location where he finds a man and three women in a small hut. As Sam holds them at gunpoint, the man reveals the truth: throughout history, wealthy men such as himself chose to seal themselves in underground "tombs," like the bomb shelter from earlier, much like Egyptian Pharaohs, in order for their souls to "ascend," accompanied by three wives, to an unexplained and unearthly domain. Sarah and her roommates were Jefferson's wives, and their deaths were faked. Their tomb has already been sealed, but Sam speaks with Sarah on the phone, and she confirms that she entered the tomb willingly. At peace with her fate, she and Sam share a brief farewell. Sam drinks the tea the wealthy man offers him and passes out. When he wakes up, he's tied up. The Homeless King lets him go, after telling him that the wealthy man and his three brides have now been taken to their own tomb.
Returning home, Sam has sex with a neighbor whose parrot repeats incomprehensible words. From the balcony, Sam watches as his landlord and a police officer enter his apartment to evict him. They notice one of his walls has been painted with a strange symbol, which Sam now knows to be a message from The Homeless King to "stay quiet".
- Andrew Garfield as Sam
- Riley Keough as Sarah, Sam's new neighbor who mysteriously disappears
- Topher Grace as Bar Buddy, Sam's unnamed friend who helps him with an investigation surrounding the disappearance of Sarah
- Callie Hernandez as Millicent Sevence
- Don McManus as Final Man
- Jeremy Bobb as Songwriter
- Riki Lindhome as Actress
- Zosia Mamet as Troy
- Patrick Fischler as Comic Fan, creator of Under the Silver Lake zine who is obsessed with conspiracy theories
- Jimmi Simpson as Allen
- Grace Van Patten as Balloon Girl
- Bobbi Salvör Menuez as Shooting Star #1
- Wendy Vanden Heuvel as Topless Bird Woman
- Chris Gann as Jefferson Sevence
- Jessica Makinson as Mrs. Sevence
- Stephanie Moore as Brunette Roommate
- Sibongile Mlambo as Blonde Roommate
- Rex Linn as Manager
- Laura-Leigh as Mae
- Luke Baines as Jesus, leader and songwriter of the band Jesus and the Brides of Dracula
- Allie MacDonald as Meek Bride
- Victoria Bruno as Clara Bow Bride
- Lola Blanc as Reading Glasses Bride
- Silversun Pickups as Band
- Sydney Sweeney as Shooting Star #2
- Guy Nardulli as Door Guard
- David Yow as Homeless King
- Adam Bartley as Cop
- June Carryl as Sheriff
- Summer Bishil as EX/Billboard Girl
- Karen Nitsche as Owl's Kiss
Casting and preproduction
In May 2016, David Robert Mitchell was announced to be writing and directing the film with Andrew Garfield and Dakota Johnson starring. Michael De Luca, Adele Romanski, Jake Weiner, and Chris Bender were also announced as producers. In October 2016, Riley Keough replaced Johnson and Topher Grace also joined the cast of the film. In November 2016, Zosia Mamet, Laura-Leigh, Jimmi Simpson, Patrick Fischler, Luke Baines, Callie Hernandez, Riki Lindhome and Don McManus joined the cast. Composer Disasterpeace, who provided the original score for Mitchell's previous film It Follows, returned to write the music.
In May 2016, A24 acquired U.S distribution rights to the film. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2018. The first country it was released in nationwide was France on August 8, followed by Belgium on August 15.
The film was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on June 22, 2018, but on June 4 was pushed back to December 7, 2018. The theatrical release was then pushed back again to April 19, 2019, and three days later it was available to stream.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 59% based on 153 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Under the Silver Lake hits its stride slightly more often than it stumbles, but it's hard not to admire—or be drawn in by—writer-director David Robert Mitchell's ambition." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out gave the film a perfect five rating, calling it "Hypnotic, spiraling and deliriously high" and stating "the ambition of Under the Silver Lake is worth cherishing. It will either evaporate into nothingness or cohere into something you'll want to hug for being so wonderfully weird." Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave a positive review, calling it "a bizarre and outrageous drama grounded in the consistency of Garfield's astonishment at every turn... It's fascinating to watch Mitchell grasp for a bigger picture with the wild ambition of his scruffy protagonist."
Owen Gleiberman of Variety gave a positive review, calling it "a down-the-rabbit-hole movie, at once gripping and baffling, fueled by erotic passion and dread but also by the code-fixated opacity of conspiracy theory. The movie is impeccably shot and staged, with an insanely lush soundtrack that's like Bernard Herrmann-meets-Angelo-Badalamenti-on-opioids." A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club gave the film a B rating, stating "Mitchell is taking a big swing with his third feature, trying something not just new but also more unconventional, ambitious, and even potentially off-putting."
Emily Yoshida of Vulture stated about the film's message: "I kept coming back to the women in this extremely boy-driven movie—Mitchell suspects that they're all on one big conveyor belt to be chewed up and spit out by Hollywood, or if they're lucky, locked away in the dungeons of the rich and powerful. It's a rather pedestrian imagining for an otherwise admirably cuckoo film—you keep hoping for Mitchell to land on something weirder, more radical." Despite praising Garfield's performance and the film's originality, Bilge Ebiri of The Village Voice gave a negative review, stating: "If you're going to make a postmodern neo-noir sex-conspiracy... set in Los Angeles, it helps to have some personality, or at least a sense of style... Mitchell has interesting ideas, and his actors seem to be having fun, but that's not enough when the film itself lacks atmosphere, or tension, or emotional engagement."
In 2018, the film had positive reactions at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland where it was awarded with the Denis-De-Rougemont Youth Award. At Sitges Film Festival Under the Silver Lake was awarded with the Special Mention of the Jose Luis Guarner Critics' Award.
While not initially a box-office success with audiences, Under the Silver Lake has garnered a cult following who are convinced that there are hidden meta-clues, codes and ciphers sprinkled throughout the film waiting to be discovered. These include references to the mystery surrounding the identity of the dog killer, various different cyphers or codes, geocoding systems, and even analysis of fireworks in the film, connecting the sound pattern they emit to Morse code. In certain scenes in the film there is graffiti that can be seen in the toilets and on a wall and which are coded with the Copiale cipher. The film's cryptography consultant was computer scientist Kevin Knight, who in 2011 co-created a program to translate the Copiale cipher.
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