David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, a hallucinatory noir mystery set in Los Angeles, has come in for a first round of decidedly mixed reviews following Tuesday night’s premiere in competition at Cannes. While some critics have drawn favorable comparisons to the work of David Lynch and Thomas Pynchon, others, such as the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, find it “catastrophically boring, callow, and indulgent.”
When a flirtatious neighbor (Riley Keough) disappears overnight, Sam (Andrew Garfield), unemployed and with little else to fill his day other than playing video games and reading a series of comics called Under the Silver Lake, takes up the case. As Vulture’s Emily Yoshida puts it, “he’s Philip Marlowe if Philip Marlowe spent way more time on Reddit.”
Some critics admire the film’s surface pleasures, such as Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography, but find that they don’t add up to much. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman calls Silver Lake “a down-the-rabbit-hole movie, at once gripping and baffling, fueled by erotic passion and dread but also by the code-fixated opacity of conspiracy theory. The movie is impeccably shot and staged, with an insanely lush soundtrack [by Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace] that’s like Bernard Herrmann-meets-Angelo-Badalamenti-on-opioids. When it’s over, though, you feel like you’ve seen a meta-mystery made by someone who spent too much time scrawling notes in the margins of his frayed copy of Infinite Jest.”
For the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd, Silver Lake “isn’t as primally effective as its predecessor,” the suburban horror It Follows (2014), but he does sense a “pervasive but almost offhand menace” in “Mitchell’s impeccable, widescreen mise-en-scène; the ordinary dread he locates in an unglamorous, mundane L.A.; and the way even the film’s comedy seems perched on the edge of unease.”
But for Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, even given two hours and twenty minutes, Mitchell is taking on more than he can handle. Silver Lake is “sunshine noir with a congenital hoarding problem; The Long Goodbye for the Ritalin generation; the plastic, knockoff version of Inherent Vice, absent Paul Thomas Anderson‘s flair for stitching his scenes together with invisible, phantom thread.”
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 1/5), Tim Grierson (Screen), David Jenkins (Little White Lies), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B+), Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair), Giovanni Marchini Camia (Film Stage, B+), David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter), Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com), and Marc van de Klashorst (International Cinephile Society). And Nicolas Rapold, Justin Chang, Mara Gourd-Mercado, and Eric Hynes discuss Silver Lake on the latest Film Comment Podcast (40’03”).
Update, 5/27: At Filmmaker, Blake Williams finds Silver Lake “entirely devoid of the details and touches that indicate first-hand experience,” and in the Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri grants that “Mitchell has interesting ideas, and his actors seem to be having fun, but that’s not enough when the film itself lacks atmosphere, or tension, or emotional engagement.” More from John Bleasdale (CineVue, 2/5), Ella Kemp (Vague Visages), Elena Lazic (Seventh Row), and Tim Robey (Telegraph, 4/5).
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.