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AFI Fest Review: ‘Under the Silver Lake’ is a beautifully bizarre experience through Los Angeles

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

Since its debut at Cannes, Under the Silver Lake has divided audiences and critics across the board. Not surprisingly, its US-based distributor A24 has pushed back the release twice in efforts to re-edit the film, and make it more palatable for audiences. Originally slated for release in summer of this year, the release date was pushed to December, then once again to April 19th of 2019. However, at this year’s AFI Fest, Under the Silver Lake returned to Los Angeles- screening for a select audience for one night only. Andrew Garfield and director David Robert Mitchell appeared, but only briefly, seemingly vanishing into thin air.

Under the Silver Lake is an enigma of a film. Filled to the brim with conspiracy theories, I began to wonder, is this a film that even exists? Or is the audience part of some loony stunt? It turns out, this film is very real even though it doesn’t feel like something in the same plane of existence. How many people will actually get the chance to experience it, we’ll never know. I was one of the lucky audience members that was treated to this insane experience.

This film could be best described as beautifully bizarre, a flavor of film for viewers with a very specific taste. Under the Silver Lake is a trippy experience through a mystical Los Angeles that I wish existed…minus the murder (and the horrifying Owl Woman). Infused with humor, horror, and countless homages to classic film, Under the Silver Lake is something unique, and bound to be misunderstood. It’s sure to find its audience like the many neo-noirs before it. If you put hints of David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Paul Thomas Anderson, a score by Disasterpiece, some potent drugs, and a dash of chemical X in a blender, you’d get the entity that is Under the Silver Lake.

Andrew Garfield is entertaining as amateur sleuth and slacker Sam. He proves once again, that he can be a leading man. Despite Sam’s problematic ways, most people can’t help but be endeared to Andrew’s character, who’s ruggedly handsome and charming. With no ambitions, Sam uses his abundant free time to decode hidden messages, investigate conspiracy theories, and ogle women. Sam lives in a cloud where women exist solely as sexual objects, and responsibility is a foreign concept. Devoid of a purpose, Sam finds solace in solving the mysteries surrounding Los Angeles.

After Sam spends a night connecting with his beautiful neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough), she vanishes overnight without a warning. Leaving nothing but a box of knickknacks and a strange symbol on the wall, Sam is determined to find out what happened to her. Ignoring the fact that his rent is due, Sam embarks on a mission that takes him through the elite, sexually deviant, and corrupt underbelly of Los Angeles. Along the way, Sam encounters dog killers, the Owl Woman, gorgeous girl gangs, the Homeless King, and a whole slew of bizarre scenarios and characters that make perfect sense, but at the same time, no sense at all.

Under the Silver Lake boasts a lot of star power, with appearances by the likes of Topher Grace, Sydney Sweeney, Jimmy Simpson, Grace Van Patten, Zosia Mamet, Riki Lindhome, Patrick Fischler, and more. Each actor exists through Sam’s stilted point of view, as all of their appearances are fleeting, and often meant to advance Sam’s agenda. Given names such as The Actress (Riki Lindhome), The Balloon Girl (Grace Van Patten), Bar Buddy (Topher Grace), and Shooting Star #1 and #2, (India Menuez and Sydney Sweeney) it’s apparent that these characters all exist in the superficial vacuum that is Sam’s world. Each character exits just as quickly as they appear, only to add another layer to the mystery.

David Robert Mitchell’s version of Los Angeles is a beautiful, yet terrifying place. The real city itself is a den of sin and dreams, a complete mind-boggle for outsiders. For those in love with Los Angeles, there’s a lot to appreciate in Under the Silver Lake. Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography is breathtaking, capturing the essence of Los Angeles. Throughout the film, you’ll find shots of familiar landmarks such as the Last Chance Bookstore, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Griffith Park, and most importantly, the Silver Lake neighborhood. This film was made by a person who is in love with Los Angeles, but doesn’t quite understand it. David Robert Mitchell seems confounded by the wealth of beautiful people, the endless amount of excess, and his relationship with the entertainment industry. Los Angeles exists in its own little corner of the universe, unlike any other place in the world and he gets that.

Under the Silver Lake is a neo-noir meant for the millennial generation. The film serves as a commentary on audiences being force-fed imagery, especially imagery of a sexual nature. Under the Silver Lake wants audiences to believe that we don’t truly have free will, but our lives are guided by messages from the media. With its incessant objectification of women, is it trying to prove its point, or is it only feeding into this disease that plagues our society? Under the Silver Lake, regardless is endlessly cool, and worthy of a second watch in order to absorb its imagery and messages. While the film has audiences and critics divided across the board, the film is sure to gain a cult following in the years to come. In my experience, it was “What the hell did I just watch? I don’t even know, but it was awesome.”