Genre as a concept is an interesting beast. If you’re willing to embrace stories, you might find yourself attracted to all types of tales. Personally, there are certain genres I have lifelong love affairs with such as comic book flicks and horror movies. However, there are other genres which I’m much more attracted to as an adult. The primary examples of which are Westerns and Film-Noir. Don’t get me long, I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, but let’s face it, mysteries with noir tone tend to burn slowly. Thus maybe it took me aging and gaining a little more patience to appreciate the noir sub-genre.
Or maybe it’s the fact that the sub-genre of noir, be it on the page or the screen is all predicated on cynicism and down-endings. For better or worse, I appreciate such qualities the older I get; just as I appreciate this sub-genre in which they abound. Noir fiction and by extension film-noir has its roots in the 1930s. However, the traditional tenants film-noir such as criminals, gumshoes, and cynical fatalism have survived into a modern age. Thus, bringing us the Neo-Noir. Hard-boiled tales of crime or mystery which take place in our contemporary times or the future.
The latest example neo-film-noir is Under the Silver Lake, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows). The film centers on Sam (Andrew Garfield), an intelligent, but unmotivated, and unemployed young man. Sam tokes away most of his days while pondering conspiracy theories. However, his favorite hobby is sitting on his apartment balcony and observing the lives of his peculiar neighbors. Soon enough, Sam makes the acquaintance of his blonde bombshell of a neighbor, Sarah (Riley Keough). Alas, after what seems to be a promising first date Sarah disappears. As a result, Sam soon finds himself traveling through the labyrinthian city of L.A. to find her.
Unlike most film-noir, Under the Silver Lake is drenched in the beautiful California sun. This movie is a bright, visual delight that pops off the screen. All the while that visual style is appropriately juxtaposed with a sense of foreboding dread that hangs over the narrative. A narrative filled with likable characters, all of whom are portrayed by a top-notch cast. Although, I must admit that I couldn’t quite buy Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) as a paranoid, wannabe P.I. Instead, the actor’s character of Sam seems more like a guy who would remain unmotivated. Destined spend the rest of life occasionally feeling a pang of pining over the girl from the apartment complex pool who got away.
As with his previous effort, It Follows (2014) auteur David Robert Mitchell proves he’s an exceptional talent; particularly when it comes to film craft. Sadly though, it’s Mitchell’s original screenplay for Under the Silver Lake which holds the film back. Yes, this story proves to be something different as it posses a unique tone. But, after setting up an intriguing mystery; the film quickly loses steam. By this movie’s second act, the pace becomes prodding as Under the Silver Lake starts to drown as it attempts to swim forward at a deliberate pace. Worst of all, the picture eventually arrives at what I felt was an unsatisfying conclusion. Still, Under the Silver Lake may interest you if you’re a big enough fan of Mitchell or neo-film-noir.
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