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Film / Under The Silver Lake

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"Our world is filled with codes, subliminal messages from Silver Lake to the Hollywood Hills."
"Why do we assume that all this information is what we're told it is? Maybe there are people out there who are more important than us, more powerful, communicating things in the world that are meant for only them and not for us."
Under the Silver Lake is a 2019 American film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. The film premiered on May 15, 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival and got its US release on April 16, 2019 straight to VOD.

It stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, an affable but aimless man who sets out on a quest to find Sarah (Riley Keough), the woman he met the night before in his apartment complex's swimming pool after she goes missing. As he combs through Los Angeles searching for clues with the help of his friend (Topher Grace), he stumbles upon a larger, more sinister conspiracy than he ever imagined, involving billionaires, celebrities, urban myths, and even pop culture as we know it.

Previews: Trailer.


Under the Silver Lake contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Sam is seen in one scene with a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man stuck to his hand.
  • All for Nothing: At the end of the film, Sam has finally uncovered the truth about the conspiracy. But he doesn't get back together with Sarah, still doesn't know what do to with his life, and is now technically homeless, having been evicted from his apartment, leaving him slightly worse off than he was in the beginning.
  • Ambiguously Human: It is never revealed whether the Owl's Kiss is a real supernatural creature or just a masked Serial Killer with an unusual modus operandi.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: The cultists believe that death is merely a gateway to another, more enlightened state of existence.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Silver Lake is extremely gentrified, and everyone seems to be some sort of hipster artist, actor or performer.
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  • Buried Alive: The cult members entomb themselves alive with a harem of beautiful women and a copious amount of luxuries to make their passing into the next world as pleasant as possible.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The disappearance (and eventual discovery of the death) of Jefferson Sevence, and his daughter Millicent's presence in the circle of personalities Sam keeps running into. At first they seem like a parallel story in the backdrop of Sam's search for Sarah. Turns out, Sarah and Jefferson's deaths were faked together so that she could become one of his harem brides.
  • The Conspiracy: Sam is convinced that Sarah's disappearance is connected to a vast conspiracy. He's right - but it turns out Sarah willingly disappeared into, to become one of Jefferson Sevence's harem wives.
  • Conspiracy Theorist:
    • Sam believes that popular culture is full of hidden messages and codes that can only be understood by a select few, and only becomes more and more fixated on deciphering these clues as the story progresses.
    • Comic Man is an even more extreme example of this trope, having dedicated his entire life to collecting and over-analyzing enormous amounts of pop cultural artifacts and locking himself in his house out of fear that he will be killed by the conspiracy if he ever goes out. Even with his paranoia, he ends up dead at the hands of the Owl's Kiss.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Sam does not get back together with Sarah, because she was never really interested in him to begin with.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Millicent Sevence is fatally shot while swimming naked, and she sinks to the bottom of the reservoir in a pose mirroring Sam's favorite Playboy cover.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Sam only spent one night with Sarah, and that's enough for him to go on a quest to find her.
  • Foreshadowing: When walking with Millicent in an area where the Dog Killer has been active, Sam dismisses her concerns. Initially this seems to be because they don't have a dog to kill, but Sam's conversation with the Hobo King heavily implies that it's because Sam is, in fact, the killer and thus knows they're safe.
  • Film Noir: The film riffs on noir trappings in an updated setting, with a detective searching for clues in the underbelly of Los Angeles, dealing with mysterious women and shadowy killers.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The Owl's Kiss attacks people wearing only a face mask.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • Millicent Sevence is shot and killed after telling Sam what she knew. Sam is shot at by the same assailant, but he manages to escape.
    • Comic Man is found dead in an apparent suicide, but Sam discovers he was killed by the Owl's Kiss.
    • Sam manages to escape this fate, not once but twice. The third time, the Hobo King warns him not to divulge anything of what he's seen to anyone, and threatens he'll end up dead. Sam agrees, and that's enough to convince the Hobo King to let him go.
  • Homage:
    • When Sam spies on his neighbor with binoculars, he's in the same pose as James Stewart's character from Rear Window. Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock receive shout-outs later in the film.
    • When Sam dreams of Sarah swimming in the pool, her pose is identical to a scene from Marilyn Monroe's unfinished film Something's Got to Give. Sarah is made to look like Monroe in the sequence.
    • Given the neo-noir setting, Sam's name is likely a nod to iconic noir/hardboiled detective Sam Spade.
  • Hypocrite: Sam gives a short rant about hating the homeless, but he's about to be evicted himself.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Sam beats the Songwriter to death with Kurt Cobain's guitar.
  • Kick the Dog: An early scene has Sam pummeling a pair of child vandals. While we can understand his anger, his brutality shows that Sam isn't just some harmless goofball.
  • King of the Homeless: The Hobo King who takes Sam to the underground tunnels.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to David Robert Mitchell's previous film It Follows, although it does have a few scenes (especially those involving Owl's Kiss) that would not be out of place in a horror film.
  • Loser Protagonist: Sam appears to have dropped out of his life ever since he broke up with his girlfriend. In spite of his nice apartment, muscle car and no lack of cash for bars and prostitutes, he has no job and can't make his rent or car payments. He spends his time slacking off, watching old movies, playing video games, and spying on his neighbors while hiding the fact that he's spiraling out of control from everyone he knows. He seems completely unconcerned with the fact that he's about to be evicted.
  • Mockstery Tale: The movie has the form of a detective story, but in fact, it is more of a commentary on Hollywood, consumerist culture, and existential need for mysteries and "true meanings" where there are none.
  • Mystical Hollywood: The Hollywood depicted in the film is inhabited by a murderous owl-woman, an ancient songwriter who claims to be responsible for every major hit in modern history, and a cult of millionaires and celebrities trying to obtain godhood.
  • The '90s: The film portrays Silver Lake as obsessed with vintage culture. Sam appears particularly stuck in the 90s. He's a huge fan of Nirvana, Retro Gaming, vinyl records and Wheel of Fortune. He goes to a club on "old music day" and dances to rock hits from the 90s. Even the conspiracy that he investigates hides clues referencing old Hollywood and 90s nostalgia.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jefferson Sevence, the bearded, globetrotting daredevil billionaire, is clearly based on Richard Branson.
  • No Name Given: Most of the characters in this film lack a name, and are only credited as Comic Man, the Actress, the Songwriter etc.
  • Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation: Sam has apparently stopped working, perhaps as a result of his sorrow over losing his girlfriend, but hides this fact from everyone he knows. When asked what he does, he refuses to say, so we don't even know what he used to do. His friends "Bar Buddy" and Allen reference working, but they also never reveal what they do to afford their bohemian lifestyles in Silver Lake.
  • Ominous Owl: Owl's Kiss, a mythical half-woman, half-owl creature who kills men in their sleep.
  • Properly Paranoid: Comic Man's paranoia turns out to be completely justified, as he's killed by Owl's Kiss after passing his knowledge onto Sam.
  • Pop Culture Symbology: The movie lives and breathes this trope: the protagonist, an amateur detective, attempts to solve a mystery by finding clues in pop music played backwards, video game magazines, and images on cereal boxes. Surprisingly, he succeeds in finding the answer... or does he?
  • Race Against the Clock: Sam is five days away from being evicted from his apartment when he meets Sarah. He's only got that much time to figure out what happened. He ends up going over-time, but gets a 24-hour extension from the LA County Sheriff who hates doing evictions.
  • Really Gets Around: Despite his somewhat scruffy appearance, poor personal hygiene and lack of employment, Sam ends up making out or having sex with a good chunk of the women who cross his path during the film.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Songwriter delivers a particularly scathing one to Sam, telling him that the supposed counterculture he idolizes so much is just another part of the entertainment industry that exists solely to make money out of young people's dreams and desires.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The film leaves a number of mysteries unresolved:
    • What is the Owl's Kiss?
    • Who is the Dog Killer? It's teased that it might be Sam himself, but not confirmed.
    • What is the parrot saying? It's given an unreveal in the end.
  • Rule of Three: Various sets of three women crop up throughout the film.
  • Running Gag: Even days after Sam gets sprayed by a skunk, even after washing off with the traditional tomato juice bath, the people he meets keep asking him if he's aware that he smells bad.
  • Scenery Censor: When Sam and Millicent are skinny dipping, some convenient bubbles obstruct Sam's genitals, and a cloud of blood obscures Millicent's crotch.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • The third child vandal runs away after watching Sam beat down his two compatriots.
    • The Owl's Kiss stalks toward Sam with a knife, but when he turns and points a gun at her, she squeaks in surprise and runs away.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After spending the entirety of the film trying to find Sarah and rescue her from the clutches of the conspiracy, Sam finds out that she left him of her own volition and has neither the means nor the desire to come back to him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sam has a number of posters on his walls of classic movies.
    • Bar Buddy plays Super Mario Bros. on Sam's Nintendo Entertainment System. Some Nintendo Power magazines also show many vintage games.
    • A Legend of Zelda map has plot significance.
    • Sam meets the prostitute/actresses beside Alfred Hitchcock's grave.
    • Sam has to rub a bust of James Dean at the Griffith Observatory.
    • Sam is a big fan of Nirvana and has a poster of Kurt Cobain on his wall, signed by Frances Cobain.
    • Sam has analyzed every single episode of Wheel of Fortune
    • The Comic Man has life casts of various celebrities on his walls.
    • The Songwriter plays various hit songs and memorable themes, most notably "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the theme from Cheers.
    • Sam and Sarah watch How to Marry a Millionaire. The film poster also appears.
  • Smelly Skunk: After being pursued by a shadowy figure, Sam ends up accidentally scaring a skunk into spraying him. The next scene is Sam in the bath, trying out the Tomato Skunk Stink Cure, while talking to the Actress, who brought him the tomatoes. It doesn't work all that well.
  • Succubus: Owl's Kiss is very reminiscent of those: she seduces men, and then kills them in their sleep.
  • Sunshine Noir: The film has many noir elements and takes place during the daytime for about half its run time.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Due to Sam's increasingly unstable mental state, it becomes difficult to discern what is real and which parts of the narrative only happen in his imagination.
  • Title Drop: Sam reads a comic out loud about secrets hiding "Under the Silver Lake."
  • Tomato Skunk Stink Cure: Sam takes a tomato sauce bath after getting sprayed in the face by a skunk. He spends the rest of the film being told that he smells bad.
  • The Un Reveal: Sam wonders what his neighbor's parrot is saying through much of the film. In the end, he sleeps with the neighbor to find out what it's saying. She says she doesn't know.
  • Unwanted Rescue: It is eventually revealed that Sarah was not kidnapped, but joined the cult voluntarily, and thus never needed to be saved.
  • World of Mysteries: Parodied and deconstructed: the protagonist Sam sees Hollywood and Los Angeles as this, encounters some weird characters and finds hidden messages... however, there are certain hints that he's going off his rails, and at least some of this stuff is happening in his head.
  • Would Hurt a Child: After finding his car defaced, Sam tracks down the 12-year-old vandals and pummels two of them mercilessly.


Example of: