Sex, Drugs, and a Missing Girl

Chances are, you probably didn’t see David Robert Mitchell’s fourth feature, the much delayed “Under The Silver Lake,” even if you wanted to. And even if you did happen to see it which is slim (the film only made $46,083 and opened at number #47 at the box office its first weekend, you probably either really loved it or really hated it.

“Under The Silver Lake,” is a follow-up to 2014’s critically acclaimed horror flick “It Follows,” taking a wide left turn from the previous genre-bending “S.T.D. infestation” terror of “It Follows.” Instead, “Under The Silver Lake” is a neo-noir picture riddled with mystery and paranoia. The film is highlighted by star Andrew Garfield as a scattered and aimless 30-something named Sam as he drifts through Los Angeles looking for answers to why the beautiful girl next door, Sarah, played by Riley (great name) Keough, up and vanishes one day.

Trailer after trailer, came for “Under The Silver Lake,” highlighted by The Violent Femmes 1983 classic “Add It Up.” The original release date of June 22, 2018, was pushed back to December 7, 2018. Then, once again, pushed back to April 19th of this year. Finally, the film came out, but despite its promises, it was released with a quiet thud. By the end of April, it was long forgotten–The Avengers was on everyone’s minds.

So why would I even write about this film no one bothered to see? Because I believe it should be recognized, not for its faults but for the gigantic amount of ambition and creativity that fill the 139 minute run time.

In the vein of apparent influencers, 1998’s Coen Brother’s cult classic, “The Big Lebowski,” and 2014’s Paul Thomas Anderson adaptation of the acclaimed Thomas Pynchon novel, “Inherent Vice,” “Under The Silver Lake” is swimming deep in an alternate Los Angeles where every local protagonist runs across is either a sexy bombshell, bonafide kook, or devious narcissist.

These presentations of L.A. have become staples in the small but persistent neo-noir genre. Our protagonist is a slacker/stoner, i.e. The Dude in “The Big Lebowski,” Doc Sportello in “Inherent Vice,” or in the case of “Under The Silver Lake,” Sam. Once the catalyst ensues (in all three cases, a missing girl), our protagonist will stumble dazed through beautiful and eye-catching locations of L.A. searching for answers. He’ll get high, he’ll have sex, and he will absolutely get hit in the face.

What I find most intriguing is that when a new neo-noir comes out, it’s always located in Los Angeles; and I gotta be honest–I love it. A New York noir is too seedy, a Chicago noir is too “middle America” for the casual viewer looking for an escape, a Los Angeles based noir? “Now you’re onto something, young director.”

Beautiful girls wanting to be stars, corporate moguls with sinister motives, countless people with endless places of origin. Everyone is a suspect in an L.A. noir and it’s all seen through the rose-tinted glasses of a city built on stars.

In one scene halfway into the first act of “Under The Silver Lake,” Sam meets with his only friend who goes unnamed, billed only as “Bar Buddy,” portrayed by Topher Grace. Sam sits and watches as his “Bar Buddy” flies a drone over the hills, searching for open windows with women undressing until he finds one who sits alone, beginning to cry. This doesn’t interest Sam and it doesn’t propel him to become more paranoid than he already is. He just accepts it as it is and moves forward.

Through this, we receive a sense that this is just how it goes in our alternate “Los Angeles,” with eyes around every corner, unanswered questions as viewers we won’t understand on the first dive, and a clue under every unturned stone. This version of “Los Angeles” is what has fueled “Under The Silver Lake” and its string of predecessors. That idealized until warped version of L.A. is taken and pulled apart, built up upon myth, and then dissected to build a mystery to scramble our minds for a two and a half hour stoned and sex plagued adventure of deception and corporate-run cons.

Every neo-noir has its schtick. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But don’t take that as a flaw. Films like “The Big Lebowski” and “Inherent Vice” have gone on to become cult classics for considerably good measure and I imagine in ten years you’ll be able to add “Under The Silver Lake” to that list. Each time you watch, you find something new. Think an I Spy book but with more swearing and nudity.

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