Dredging Up What’s “Under the Silver Lake”

Did you see this trailer for Under the Silver Lake about a year ago and think nothing of it? Lots of people did and dismissed it as a generic hipster-centric snoozefest. But a few interested people stuck around and read the checklist as a piece of comedy. Vinyl? Yes. Ridiculously nice apartments with one sole occupant? Yes. Struggling actors trying to make it in Hollywood? Yes. Pretentious bars? Yes. Violent Femmes? Sure, yes.

As much as these elements might seem like they’d make for a bland 30-something-centric film involving thousand yard stares and brunch, director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) lampoons mumblecore, Los Angeles and “the male gaze.”

The story in Silver Lake starts off innocently enough, wherein our protagonist Sam (Andrew Garfield) is caught staring at his sunbathing neighbor through binoculars and later notices signs of a neighborhood dog murderer. Perpetually unemployed (and unperturbed), Sam tracks down clues surrounding a disappearance and gets rapidly sucked into the lavish, oddball world of the Hollywood adjacent.

Though the plot reads a bit like a noir, it’s difficult to describe this world as an “underbelly,” seeing as the parties and high teas Sam goes to on his mock-chivalric quest are neither clouded in cigar smoke nor shot through shuttered blinds. The real hook of this film comes in the barrage of red herrings, corner-of-your-eye subplots and ridiculous clues that sometimes pan out, sometimes don’t, and sometimes turn out to be redundant at best. In addition to all that, the film’s (for lack of a better word) meta narrative allows you to go on a hunt for clues that parallel Sam’s adventure. What did the “E=EE” on that billboard mean? Why are the barbie dolls arranged like that? Why the focus on Janet Gaynor? Is Sam being followed? Am I being followed? What’s going on?

That this film got next to no distribution and poor critical reception when it first came out seems like a conspiracy in itself, especially considering that the film satirizes the Hollywood elite in such a biting way. But make no mistake, Under the Silver Lake deserves any and all renewed interest it receives. Give it a look, but get too close and you might fall in.