UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, US, 2018. Starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keogh, Topher Grace, Luke Baines, David Yow, Jeremy Bobb.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell. 139 minutes. Rated MA (Strong themes, violence and sexual scenes)
Perhaps there should be consumer advice giving information which states, “weirdness”, a caution that most moviegoers, who are not on the wavelength of weirdness and do not want to be, could be warned off. This is one of those films. However, for audiences who like movies which are “different”, to say the least, movies which have complex plots and quite unanticipated dramatic turns, from directors who enjoy playing with performances and camera techniques, this is definitely to put high on the list. And, it does not shortchange its audience - it runs for two hours and 20 minutes.
The Silver Lake is, in fact, in East Los Angeles. It is generally not a dark and shadow in place although the film does take us underground, into a bunker area, through tunnels, to the Hollywood Hills and interiors. But, most of the day scenes are in bright sunshine.
This is the story of a Californian slacker, Sam,, with Andrew Garfield in every sequence. No explanation of where he gets his money (but his car towed away and landlords getting police to warn him about eviction unless he pays his rent). And, when asked about his work, he says he doesn’t do any – and certainly the evidence is there all the way through.
He is certainly an ogler, spying on his neighbours, even with binoculars, almost gaping at any woman he comes across – and many of them give him every opportunity to gape. On the one hand is rather inarticulate, frequently in a four-letter way. On the other hand, a lot of the dialogue is what we might call California-existential, probing the meaning of life, speculations (often rather weird) death, afterlife (which is rather hedonistic).
He stirs himself when an attractive young woman in a downstairs apartment mysteriously disappears. He sets himself a quest, to find her, to rescue her. (The screenplay is full of codes: anything in the fact that the woman is played by Riley Keogh, granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, daughter of Lisa Marie Presley – who, amongst her four husbands, we find Nicolas Cage and Michael Jackson!)
Where there is some more weirdness is that Sam is fascinated by codes, symbolic numbers, mysterious signs and emblems. A lot of discussion about code breaking and special meanings to be discovered everywhere, in entertainment, in music, with special reference to those theories about music played backwards, discovery of satanic messages. In fact, there is a character whose life is absorbed by all of this, his apartment walls covered in signs and diagrams, both mundane and alarming, a hidden tunnel with all kinds of esoterica, and a high belief in conspiracy theories. And as the plot progresses, with a mysterious songwriter who claims to have infiltrated many songs with hidden messages, with a self-proclaimed king of the homeless, with a group of neo-hippies eager to move on to the next state of existence, there is plenty, more than plenty, to tantalise the weirdness audience.
So, a stylish -looking film at times, yet the mundane world of East Los Angeles, a character who we are interested in but may find it difficult to like, a great number of strange Californian types, all adding up to…? But, of course, that is one of the main aims of the film, for us to make of it what we will, especially considering the conspiracies, the messages and the codes.
Umbrella Released 20th June
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.