Sam (Andrew Garfield), an unemployed man dodging eviction from his Los Angeles apartment, becomes transfixed by a beautiful blonde living in his complex named Sarah (Riley Keough). The two meet briefly one evening, but when Sam visits Sarah the next day, her apartment is empty and she’s seemingly disappeared without a trace. Puzzled as to why Sarah would leave so suddenly, Sam makes it his mission to delve into the dark mysteries of L.A., uncovering clues and conspiracies he believes to be linked to her disappearance.
Sam’s journey awakens him to the potential of mass media, as he learns of the messages and secret codes supposedly hiding among everyday popular culture. Under the Silver Lake is in an ironic position of being media exposing media, continually reminding us through its self-referential nature. At times the camera is like another character, floating around with a presence of which you’re very conscious of.
However, the epitome of its self-awareness comes in a scene in which Sam wakes to find his hand stuck to a Spider-Man comic – contrasting the film’s dark narrative with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour.
Under the Silver Lake is littered with references to classic films, unabashedly paying homage to their directors with its twisted Lynchian vibe and Hitchcock inspired ‘peeping-tom’ protagonist. Even the background music swells into an old Hollywood show tune at one point, as though it’s also reminiscing about the good ol’ days, contradicting the modern, moody imagery.
We’re treated like visitors of L.A., as Sam’s sleuthing takes us to every tourist ‘hot-spot’, including the Griffith Observatory, the star-studded graveyards and the iconic Hollywood sign that looms over the city. Under the Silver Lake is an ode to Hollywood while simultaneously tearing it apart.
You find yourself, as Sam does, paying attention to every tiny detail of each scene, certain that everything has purpose and that the clues will start to add up. However, it’s difficult to decipher what’s actually happening and what’s merely a dream. Eerie coincidences regularly occur, for example, a scene of Sam swimming in the reservoir with a woman, leads to a shot that’s all too familiar to a Playboy cover seen earlier in his room.
Unfortunately, many of these clues are red herrings, simply thrown in to make Sam’s story as twisted and confusing as possible. When Sam finally uncovers the secrets of the world of the rich and famous, the pay-off is disappointing – it just didn’t live up to the intriguing journey he took to get there.
However despite this downfall, Under the Silver Lake is well worth the watch as it completely draws you into its weird and wonderful mystery, providing a captivating glimpse into the dark side of the ‘city of stars’.