Under the Silver Lake
|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 neo-noir black comedy thriller film written, produced and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Set in Los Angeles in 2011, it follows a young man (Andrew Garfield) who sets out on a quest to investigate the sudden disappearance of his neighbour (Riley Keough), only to stumble upon an elusive and dangerous large-scale conspiracy.
The film had its world premiere 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 released in the United States on April 19, 2019, by A24. Under the Silver Lake polarized critics; although its originality, direction, soundtrack, cinematography, and Garfield's performance were praised, some found the script confusing, too cryptic, and lacking the substance and depth the film was aiming for.
Sam is an aimless 33-year-old in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, interested in conspiracy theories and hidden messages in popular culture and uninterested in paying his overdue rent. The public is warned to "Beware the Dog Killer" who is murdering pets. Sam meets his new neighbor, Sarah, who despite having caught him spying on her, invites him over. The two get high and watch How to Marry a Millionaire, but when her roommates interrupt as they begin to kiss, Sarah suggests Sam leave and they hang out the next day.
In the morning, Sam discovers Sarah and her roommates have moved out overnight, and becomes obsessed with learning what happened. Noticing a strange symbol painted on the apartment's wall, Sam trails a woman from the apartment to a series of elite Hollywood parties, encountering the pop band "Jesus and the Brides of Dracula" and a performance artist working for a prostitution ring of struggling actresses. All seem connected, but Sam struggles to find any meaningful pattern.
At his apartment, Sam sees a news report detailing the discovery of billionaire Jefferson Sevence, burned to death in a car with three women. Sam recognizes Sarah's hat at the scene, and a small dog similar to Sarah's found dead.
Sam contacts the author of Under the Silver Lake, an underground comic about neighborhood urban legends. He tells Sam that Sarah's disappearance, the Dog Killer, the Owl's Kiss - a naked woman in an owl mask who seduces and kills people in their sleep - and messages in pop culture are part of the same conspiracy and has installed security cameras throughout his house. Later, the police find the author dead in an apparent suicide. Sam enters the house and reviews the security footage, discovering the author was killed by a woman dressed as the Owl's Kiss.
Following clues hidden in Jesus and the Brides of Dracula songs, Sam meets the "Homeless King", who brings him to a bunker underneath Griffith Park leading into a supermarket. With the help of the performance artist and her friends, Sam meets "the Songwriter", a fabulously wealthy old man who claims to have written most of history's popular songs. When the Songwriter tries to shoot him, Sam bludgeons him to death with a guitar that purportedly belonged to Sam's musical idol, Kurt Cobain.
At a party in the Hollywood Hills, Sam meets Jefferson Sevence's daughter Millicent, also running into his now-famous ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Millicent convinces Sam to go swimming in the Silver Lake Reservoir. She gives him a bracelet – identical to Sarah's – that belonged to her father, and is shot dead by unseen assailants and sinks to the bottom of the lake, mirroring a pose from Sam's favorite issue of Playboy.
Sam manages to escape, and combines the bracelet, the author's cereal box prize, and a Legend of Zelda map from the first issue of Nintendo Power to reveal a location absent from web mapping 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 choose to lock themselves in underground bunkers similar to the one Sam discovered, much like Egyptian Pharaohs, in order for their souls to "ascend" accompanied by three wives. Sarah and her roommates were Sevence's wives, and their deaths were faked. Their bunker has been sealed, but they can still be contacted via videotelephony. Sam speaks with Sarah, who confirms that she entered the bunker willingly. At peace with her fate, she and Sam share an emotional farewell.
Sam begins to pass out as the Homeless King arrives to capture him, angered by finding dog biscuits in his pocket. When Sam tells him that he did not actually have a dog and kept biscuits only as memory of his painful breakup and knowledge that he would never see his girlfriend's dog again, the Homeless King lets him go. Returning home, Sam spends the night 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 the strange symbol seen earlier, which Sam now knows to be a message from the conspiracy to "stay quiet".
- Andrew Garfield as Sam
- Riley Keough as Sarah, Sam's new neighbour 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
- India 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.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 59% based on 151 reviews, with an average rating of 6.0/10. 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, and an average user score of 6.7/10, 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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