This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
David Gregg’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I don't know why I sat on Under the Silver Lake for so long. Perhaps it was knowing of the mixed reception beforehand. Or, maybe I knew my expectations were high and didn't want them shattered. After all, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows is one of my favourite horror movies of all time. I now regret leaving it for so long, Under the Silver Lake is unlike any other film I've seen. An ode to it predecessors whilst being unique and original in its own right.
Other than knowing the general reception, I went into this one completely blind. I'd recommend anyone else to do the same. Under the Silver Lake had me hooked from the very first shot. The visuals are striking, using wonderful long takes and amazing set design to entice you into its world. There are so many interesting locations used throughout. Everything is captured in creative ways, the framing of each shot has a noticeable purpose behind it. This is one I immediately want to revisit, so much thought has gone into creating this film. There are so many little details that I'm sure will only become apparent upon multiple rewatches. Also, I want to mention the score by Disasterpiece. It's fantastic, it suits the tone of the film and is never repetitive. I still think the score they produced for It Follows is more my thing but what they've done here is really great.
At its core, Under the Silver Lake is presented as a mystery-thriller. Mitchell creates a constant sense of paranoia and exploration that is intriguing and engaging. It is no surprise that the horror elements of this film are nailed. The owl girl was genuinely creepy and added a lot of tension to the scenes she's featured in. Despite all this, the film keeps a playful tone, this is due to how self-aware it is. Mitchell simultaneously sets up interesting mysteries whilst mocking the very conspiracists that try to solve them. He acknowledges human curiosity, the want to comprehend as much as possible, but illustrates that there's always a boundary to our knowledge. For example, Sam is obsessed with determining what the parrot says. His frustration with the anti-climatic answer parallels the unknowability of the world. A common theme throughout Under the Silver Lake is the concept of a secret code underlying everything. This resembles the human desire to have an answer that will solve everything or uncover hidden answers. The lack of satisfaction that Sam gets from his discoveries represents the pointlessness of this search. The owl girl is possibly a metaphor for the ultimate demise of those who eject themselves from society in an attempt to search for answers, but I'm not so sure of this. There is so much to take from Under the Silver Lake, it is hard to appreciate initially (just look at some of the things deciphered on /r/UnderTheSilverLake, my personal favourite being the morse code hidden in the fireworks used to message Sarah). The symbolism and hidden messages aren't just fun, they are purposeful. Mitchell makes some of his statements obvious but others are only apparent upon reflection. There are so many plot avenues and ideas to think about. That's not to say there's no payoff in the conclusion, quite the opposite actually. There are some very satisfying scenes towards the end of the film.
I think what some others fail to appreciate here is Mitchell's use of satire. I do not understand the complaints of misogyny at all, the film is completely aware of what Sam is. The film never installs Sam as a hero, in fact, the smallest understanding of the plot reveals Sam to be quite the opposite. The film acts as a commentary on Hollywood and misogyny. Sam is exactly the sort of person who needs to hear the message of this film. He treats every woman as an object. One of the more obvious revelations towards the end of the film is that Sam is the dog killer, this is reinforced several times earlier in the film using imagery. Note that at various points during the film, Sam hallucinates and sees people barking, it is no coincidence that all of them are women. It's also no coincidence that characters in the film comment upon his stench. Sam is definitely painted as a lazy slob, he obsesses over the only female who doesn't reciprocate his attention, he puts everything else aside to pursue her. The film explores the misogyny in Hollywood with Sam as its intended audience. Numerous women in the film essentially sell their bodies for stardom. The three girls 'ascending' with a rich man parallel this. Sam's behaviour throughout Under the Silver Lake is the very reason women have to resort to these measures in the film and in the industry. Ultimately, it is all futile as Sam refuses to change his ways after his experience. I should point out that Andrew Garfield does great in his role of Sam, this is probably my favourite performance of his. All of the characters in Under the Silver Lake, including Sam, are fun and interesting to watch.
Now, there are some interpretations I'm not as confident with and some questions I still have. To further the commentary on Hollywood, it is revealed that the rich men who attempt to 'ascend' fake their deaths. I believe this may serve to highlight the lack of consequence these men face. Under the Silver Lake also criticizes pop culture/media and calls out its repetitiveness. The songwriter is a metaphor for big corporation that churns out so much of our modern day media. Furthermore, there's the question of Millicent Sevence's death (which has a remarkable resemblance to Sam's Playboy cover), I believe it's possible that Sam is the murderer. He's shown to hallucinate when he sees women barking at him. Is it possible he does this to hide from his guilt and responsibility? There's a scene in which a squirrel falls from the sky and looks up at Sam. I think Sam hallucinates here and he actually stomped on the squirrel. Perhaps Sam hallucinates in the lake and he is the one who killed her in order to retrieve her fathers' bracelet. Feel free to call me out on any of my interpretations, I'd love to discuss this film more.
Over the course of writing this review, my rating has gone from an 8 to a 9 and now, a 10. This is a score I certainly don't give out lightly. David Robert Mitchell's abilities as a filmmaker are incredibly impressive and I'm certainly eager to see what he comes up with next. It Follows and Under the Silver Lake are such different films but each so special, Mitchell has shown a tremendous amount of talent across genres. Under the Silver Lake is a spectacular film that envelops your thoughts from start until long after it ends.