(US - 2019)
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Callie Hernandez, Don McManus, Jeremy Bobb, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet, Patrick Fischler, Jimmi Simpson, Grace Van Patten, India Menuez, Wendy Vanden Heuvel, Chris Gann, Stephanie Moore, Sibongile Mlambo, Rex Linn, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Laura-Leigh, Luke Baines, Sydney Sweeney, David Yow, Summer Bishil, Deborah Geffner. (R, 139 mins)
It says something about just how strange and impenetrable UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is that distributor A24--the folks who specialize in giving nationwide rollouts to divisive audience-alienators like THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT, GOOD TIME, and HEREDITARY--were at a complete loss as to what to do with it. The much-anticipated follow-up to writer/director David Robert Mitchell's acclaimed 2015 horror hit IT FOLLOWS, UNDER THE SILVER LAKE was filmed in late 2016 and released overseas last summer after a mixed reception at Cannes. Skittish about its commercial prospects at home, A24 moved the film to December 2018, then pulled it from the release schedule entirely, ultimately unveiling it with little fanfare on just two screens on April 19, 2019, with a VOD dumping four days later. In more ways than one, UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is to Mitchell what SOUTHLAND TALES was to Richard Kelly, the acclaimed writer/director who was given wide latitude after 2001's DONNIE DARKO got zero attention in theaters before becoming a bona fide cult sensation once it hit video stores. Following the success of IT FOLLOWS, Mitchell was more or less permitted to make the film he wanted to make with UNDER THE SILVER LAKE. It's not IT FOLLOWS, just like SOUTHLAND TALES wasn't DONNIE DARKO, and it's an odd time for visionary auteurs when Kelly hasn't made a movie in ten years and unfortunately seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, and here's Mitchell, another wunderkind granted almost complete freedom on a project and creating something that's left its producers and distributors (and some audiences) completely dumbfounded. History has a way of repeating itself.
territory, which is maybe one influence more than the narrative of this labyrinthine saga can handle. The "waking nightmare" feel of the story begins collapsing when Mitchell feels the need to start explaining, and his decision to force it all to make sense (and a lot of it still doesn't) grinds things to a tedious halt when it matters most. But in fairness, this is the kind of film that you can watch ten times and have ten different reactions, depending on which element you choose to focus. On one viewing, it feels like it's biting off way more than it can chew, though the endless in-jokes (there's a funny sight gag involving an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, a pointed reference to nobody liking Garfield's turn as Spidey, a planned trilogy halted after two films) and movie references (there's a slew of David Lynch shout-outs, like the tunnels invoking the horror underneath the Norman Rockwell-esque surface of BLUE VELVET; Sam beating the shit out of two teenage vandals in a moment that's every bit as gratifying as mobster Robert Loggia's revenge on an obnoxious tailgater in LOST HIGHWAY; and the very presence of Fischler, unforgettable in the traumatizing Winkie's scene in MULHOLLAND DR) are undeniably entertaining. Is UNDER THE SILVER LAKE a brilliantly-conceived, unsolvable puzzle that cineastes will be deciphering for years to come or is Mitchell is sending the gullible on a wild goose chase? It's impossible to tell, but one recurring theme throughout is masturbation, which becomes a metaphor for Sam's obsessive pursuit, never more blatantly than when he takes a break to jerk off while a Jesus and the Brides of Dracula vinyl plays in reverse as he scours their album for hidden messages. Maybe all we're doing with all this overanalyzing is jerking ourselves off. Maybe that's kinda what Mitchell's doing with UNDER THE SILVER LAKE.