Under the Silver Lake (2018)
What are they hiding?
Someone I work with made mention of this movie at one point, and the name stuck in my head long enough to get added in the queue. The amusing part is that it stuck there as a recommendation to watch - but in actuality, I think they just mentioned it at some point and haven’t actually seen it. Either way, this puppy pitches itself as a modern noir, and like most hooks in detective flicks, there’s a missing girl on the line. This time around though, there’s no real detective in sight, just an infatuated neighbor and the promise of plenty of mystery. Get the tin foil hats and the aluminum badges, tonight we have to find out just what is Under the Silver Lake.
It’s referring to a place, the title, but it’s also got this little meta conspiracy theory comic or magazine that’s function off of it too. Thought I’d put that out - but the rest of the movie is here too, so we should talk about it. Our main hook is of course the central plot - that of what happened to the cutey pants neighbor our lead is infatuated with. What happens to get there, however, would make a conspiracy theorist throw so much money at this movie rewatching it that the normal audience probably wouldn’t even need to attend for it to turn a profit. I’ll be honest, sometimes I'd completely forget how I even got to the point I was at in the movie, getting a bit surprised when suddenly the car veers off the road and into a swamp filled with underground bio-spheres housing aliens (author note: not a real part of the movie, just an analogy). To say that the movie is multi-layered would be a fallacy - the thing has more layers than an ogre or a cake or an onion - but the trick is that not all the layers come out feeling as though they really matter to the plot in the long run of things, despite providing ample points or commentary to think about or even leading via skipping of the stone to the next lead necessary. It all connects, it doesn’t all get explained, and at times some of the elements are actually just somewhat lost or floating about in their own world existing but not actually coming much into play if at all.
Of course, we can’t get into a whole lot of those elements without ruining the ride, so we’ll just skip out on the finer details. Honestly, although plenty of moments the movie mentions or sets up do come to pay off somewhere down the line at some point or another, a good hand of them come back in ways so inconceivable that a lot won’t piece them together until after it’s been lain out by the end of the movie. Part of it might be a clever play on ruse and red herrings, some of it might be accidental, and yet still some of it might just be how often things can come off as almost dreamlike (or in a few instances actually dreams) in a stylized, colorized noir fashion. To that effect, the main draw of the pitch - mystery and noir - actually get delivered on pretty well, although I would add a emboldened caveat of it being less typical suave detective and more sleazy private dick with some of it’s presentation. There’s a lot of naked bodies thrown around in here - and it’s really not always done in a hyper sexualized way either. Honestly, most of the times (even the once or so that sex is going on) things like nudity are presented so ho-hum bland in the actors presentation or just the general feel of the scene that one could argue that it could feel less like the movie is trying to get you excited and more that it’s just there taking up the space. For a better analogy, think of it as the difference between a nude beach where everyone is naked and nobody cares and a pornographic flick. And yeah, there’s some dude booty and abs in there as well, and perhaps a little frontal for the more eagle-eyed ladies (that’s just as likely just your imagination filling in). It’s nothing explicit in either direction.
With that comes the actual actors and characters. There was a strange moment in the movie where I had a thought occur to me - if this movie was funnier, Seth Rogan and James Franco would feel right at home showing up in it. A lot of it has that kind of stoner laid back feel to it - which I think is a side effect of the movie going for a large population of totally disenchanted people bleeding over with the almost total lethargic feeling of “meh” attitudes. Our main does a lot of sitting around or lazing about, awkwardly yet calmly doing everything (with the exception of a few scenes). Other characters likewise have a very “whatever” attitude about them, and the entire thing in turn has this sort of HollyWood burnout vibe underpinning the acting. It might put some people off, but I honestly point it out because I don’t think (especially in this case) that it’s bad acting. It’s all quite well acted, and the few moments a character can get passionate about something kind of helps sell that point. Of course, it also helps add to that almost monotone feel of some of the old black and white noir narratives from yesteryear. All that said, I’m not sure if most people will particularly like the main character, or for that matter really attach in super meaningful ways to any of the side characters that much either. Relate, sure, there’s plenty of moments to relate too, but between the amount of mystery and what I’ll just call artistic direction it might be a bit tricky for people to latch on to a given characters plight.
Even if you aren’t pulling for any character, the story is still compelling though. Scenery is largely normal and modern, as is outfits. There is a distinct amount of that movie-star glam about a lot of the outfits, with plenty of rather fine looking outfits or get ups that speak of feeling silky and still looking fine. Working in a band and a dancer to a few bits also helps add in some extra non-standard outfits, as does the one notable homeless character. There’s even a dude that looks like a pirate, for no apparent reason, that you never really get an explanation too. Even with plenty of things being modern, the composition of things is still set up nicely and offers enough for the eye to be happy with what it’s seeing. Little details get set up, only for you to come back to them later in moments of realization that perhaps it was foreshadowing - or perhaps it’s just your own mind forcing the connections. The handful of dream sequences set things up to be always questionable as well - looking largely the same as any other scene in the movie until the twist hits, largely earmarked by strangely placed dog barking. Although the layer of “is this fabricated” is appreciated, it also can help make things somewhat annoying when you start questioning some of the more bizarre moments and just have to assume that they aren’t dreams given they didn’t break at any point.
Effects aren’t super abundant. There’s a few scenes with some nice things going on - a spooky stalker, a light at the end of the tunnel, an underwater scene. Sometimes you’ll get some blood, or some old man prosthetics, or a bunch of different layers of grunge. One scene contains some brutal (although not entirely realistic) levels of smush, and one dream sequence in particular contains some low-tier zombie violence that’s done quite well, with a pretty sweet magic separation that looked quite cool. Beyond that is a few art-focused shots, sometimes animated and sometimes just done live with some artistic angles. The camera work is good as well, and we do get some nice camera work effects as well, including a nice tracked fall over scene. Lighting also gets to do some great work as well, providing the movie with some of the few more horror-edged scenes. Like a previous statement alluded to, there is a lot for your eyes to be entertained by, and that’s without even taking into account the plenty of hot people.
Side characters become quite recognizable as they keep showing up in the movie. Largely, I’d argue this is the costume designer’s contributions more than the actors, as I did occasionally feel an actor or two looked relatively samey, although never so much confusingly so. With so many moving parts and players, it’s good to have those landmarks of who a person is at a quick glance. At one point, I even recognized another actor I knew in there. The major downside to this is that with so many players, so few of them get any real story to them. Most of it is just a mysterious link to lead to another mysterious link, on up the chain towards the missing neighbor. People come and go, and sometimes the most introduction you get is a quick “how you doing friend.” Perhaps it’s from trying to digest so much at once - but honestly I feel like the movie was more concerned about laying out what it had to say as commentary and looking good doing it than it really cared about giving any number of characters a real fleshed out story line or arc. All of that also somewhat comes to a head by the ending, where if I had to staple one part of the movie to a poster as the figure head of what people would complain about the most it would be that. Is it bad? Not really, it just doesn’t really feel like it satisfies a lot of what you wanted to know - a case of opening up more questions than answering, and I’m almost positive that annoys more people than it entertains.
The nudity alone probably roles a lot of people out of the recommendation quality on this - doesn’t bother plenty of us, I know, but for sure there are some that just don’t like that in their movies casual or not. People who like conspiracies and mysteries have a slight edge on the recommendation button, as long as they can get along with the fact that it won’t always be wrapped up or elaborated on. The soundtrack is pretty fun, and there are a few short moments that are still jingling around my head - but the montage barrage quality of the scene they were in largely rules me out from mentioning them. Beyond that, this one is a pretty fun little flick, and if you like that die-hard noir feel of just being this grey-ground of judgement with a pretty cynical conspiratorial cloud - then this is a modern one that’ll probably jump into your collection.