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Under the Silver Lake

What are they hiding? 

Year: 2018 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: Unknown 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by David Robert Mitchell 
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace  

In this stunning and underrated feature, writer/director David Robert Mitchell turns the stones of modern American masculinity and picks at the broken dreams in the dirt underneath. One of the woodlice dwelling here is Sam (Andrew Garfield), a thoroughly dislikeable slacker who wastes his days with comic books and copious herbal refreshments. A chance meeting with his beautiful neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough) leads him on a enjoyably bonkers trail through the mansions of Los Angeles to try and uncover a conspiracy that may involve millionaires, coded song lyrics, a litany of murdered pet dogs and a man dressed as a pirate - or it might all collapse into dust when the sun rises and the fog of the night before rolls away. It's a deranged trip through the city that comes off like a dark antidote to stoner comedies, while also managing to produce more laughs than many entries in that genre.

The film makes great use of its LA setting with some stunningly colourful shots (the cinematography was done by Mike Gioulakis, who went on to lens the fabulous Us). In that respect, it fits into that great seam of American cinema, the 'sunlight noir'; a variant on the classic form where the golden gleam throws the corners of these crime conspiracy plots into even sharper relief. However, Mitchell uses a modern-day setting, so where Chinatown and Inherent Vice used the genre to play on the melancholy wave breaking over the advent of the 1970s, Under the Silver Lake is an uglier look at an era that is lost before the characters even realise. Even sex is soulless for Sam, and it is such an achievement that there is both catharsis in seeing his unlikeable traits be tripped up and also sadness in the desperation that punctures the climax. Having said that, the film is by no means a slog to sit through, as the crazy leaps of logic in the investigative plot are carried along by a great soundtrack and some wonderfully imagined set-pieces.

Max King

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Screenings of this film:

2020/2021 Autumn Term (digital)