The (Other) iTunes $0.99 Movie of the Week: ‘Under the Silver Lake’

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Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

Right then, the featured $0.99 movie this week is a little indie remake by the name of Miss Bala. Not gonna lie, this is a movie I was very interested in prior to its release, mostly because the 2011 Mexican film it’s based on was one of my favorite movies that year. Let’s just say that this update doesn’t even hold a candle to the original, and I had zero desire to sit through it a second time. That being said, I’d wholly encourage all of you to seek out that 2011 original, ’cause it’s a legit stunner, and it’ll only cost you $3.99 to rent. As for me, well, I can always find something interesting in the “Movies You Might’ve Missed” section of iTunes to spend a buck on. So …

This week, a hapless hipster fumbles his way through the seedy Los Angeles underbelly in search of his missing neighbor in Under the Silver Lake.

Welcome to Purgatory

Sam (Andrew Garfield) is 33 years old, perpetually unemployed, about to be kicked out of his apartment, and has little desire to do anything but sit around drinking, getting high, spying on his neighbors, and sleeping with any woman who will have him. When Sam spots a beautiful neighbor (Riley Keough) skinny dipping in the apartment complex’s pool one night, something seems to wake up inside of him. So when his new object of desire suddenly goes missing, Sam is hell bent of finding out what happened to her. Little does he know, but he’s about to be sucked into a paranoia-fueled odyssey through the unseemliest corners of Tinseltown and beyond. Welcome to David Robert Mitchell’s trippy, neo-noir anti-thriller Under the Silver Lake.

Riley keough in under the silver lake

Where’s the Mystery That Makes Everything Worthwhile?

If you’re anything like me (or the billion other genre denizens who worshipped at the alter of 2014’s chilling horror confection It Follows), Under the Silver Lake has been on your radar since the day David Robert Mitchell announced it as his It Follows followup. If you’re anything like me, you were probably also over the moon when it was announced that indie powerhouse A24 (the studio behind gems like Green Room, Ex MachinaLady Birdand Hereditary) would be producing/releasing the film. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you were probably also a bit concerned when the film received tepid reviews out of 2018’s Cannes Film Festival, only to have its release date pushed back, then pushed back again, and then pushed back again. You were probably also a bit confounded that the highly anticipated, Andrew Garfield starrer never really got a proper theatrical release.

In actuality, A24 all but skipped a theatrical release for Under the Silver Lake, instead hoping the film would find its audience via streaming platforms, and probably hoping it would earn “cult classic” status. Well, Under the Silver Lake has been streaming for a few months, and we’re guessing not many of you actually knew that. We’re also guessing even fewer of you have sat through all 140 minutes of it … which means A24’s obvious worries about the film’s mass appeal were more than a little warranted.

The good news is that Mitchell’s noir-tinged slacker opus is nowhere near as bad as you’ve likely heard. In fact, there’s a lot to like within Under the Silver Lake‘s perpetually meandering narrative. First and foremost is the work of Andrew Garfield as Mitchell’s would-be detective. Of the young actor’s turn as the disillusioned, wanna-be hero at the center of Mitchell’s sprawling mystery, I’ll simply say that I’ve admired his work in far better films over the years, but no single performance of his has felt more authentic than this turn as Under the Silver Lake‘s dazed and confused slacker sleuth. In truth, if there’s but one reason to sit through the film’s unnecessarily rangy runtime, it’s purely to watch Garfield convey the ever cagey machinations of his character’s burned out brain as the unwieldy mystery he’s embroiled in continues to twist and turn in increasingly insane ways.

If there’s another reason to sit through all 140-minutes of Under the Silver Lake, it’s to soak in the lavish photography of Mike Gioulakis, who frames every maddening moment with airy precision, gracefully shifting between the effervescent natural light that paints the Southern California dayscapes, and the shadowy, neon-tinged vistas that dominate the night. That each of those frames are backed by a sly bit of scoring from composer Disasterpeace (It Follows) that plays as easily in the realm of overtly sinister as it does mysterious and classically romantic is just a welcome bonus to a film that sports its share of compelling moving pieces.

The faultiest of those pieces is the one that matters most – Mitchell’s script. It’s hard to describe the exact problem with Mitchell’s approach to Under the Silver Lake‘s narrative. He’s clearly drawing from a well of masterful. L.A. set neo-noir flicks in the Coen’s The Big Lebowski, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. While Mitchell often manages to mug the tonal dexterity of those films throughout Under the Silver Lake, he fails completely at imbuing his story with any sort of meaning, or even a single three dimensional character (the female characters in particular are shamefully underwritten).

Of course, that may be just the point Mitchell is trying to make with Under the Silver Lake. The film is, if nothing else, meant to portray a desperate search for meaning in a world both fueled and consumed by self-serving superficiality. But Mitchell wastes that painfully astute concept on a ramshackle narrative that seems spawned from a month or so spent writing down one’s every single thought while in a constant haze of bong smoke. Conceptually, that may lend a certain air of Los Angeles cool to the mix, but ultimately those concepts end up feeling just as vapid and meaningless as the shallow world it presents.

Andrew garfield in under the silver lake

Worth It?

Look, I wasn’t lying when I said there’s a lot to like about Under the Silver Lake. This film is overflowing with style and ideas, and features what may be Andrew Garfield’s finest work as an actor. But as much as this film has going for it, David Robert Mitchell never really does enough with the kaleidoscopic narrative, or the paper thin characters trapped within, to make anything worthwhile. Which, for the record, hardly makes Under the Silver Lake worth a buck, let alone the 140-minutes of your life it will consume. Hey, did I mention you can rent the marvelous original (113-minute) version of Miss Bala for just $3.99?

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