Tag Archives: It Follows

Under the Silver Lake

5 Jul

‘Under the Silver Lake’: A distracted detective searches for the frequency in ambitious oddity


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For folks who dig seedy sagas that wind through the underbelly of Hollywood’s dream factory – say “Neon Demon” or “Inherent Vice” – David Robert Mitchell, who hit it big in the horror genre with “It Follows” back in 2014, has a strange one. “Under the Silver Lake,” something of a personal odyssey-cum-mystery, moves in skitters and tics containing a flood of cinematic homage (nay, make that overt: “Did you see that? That’s my Hitchcock”). And while not all of it sticks, it does add spice to the layer cake as it gets thicker and more pungent.

Sam (Andrew Garfield), our hero – or antihero, as is more the truth – is a mopey, shaggy dog, at best underemployed and most likely lacking a job at all no matter how many times he responds “good” or “busy” when asked about said occupation. He lives a lackadaisical existence ambling about a motel complex that has “Rear Window” views; across the way a comely occupant coos to her parrot, sans top. Like Jimmy Stewart, Sam’s got binoculars handy to drink it all in, and what’s this? Down by the pool lounges Sarah, another fetching lass in a bikini (Riley Keough) with a fluffy white toy pooch. Before Sam has a chance to pursue Sarah (the gal at the pool) a friend with benefits shows up, and headboard-banging thumps ensue. What to make of Sam? The dude’s clearly a libertine under the sheepish, aw-shucks demeanor used when fielding calls from his mother, who likes to jabber on about the virtues of Janet Gaynor (I like his mom). Besides paying hypnotic witness to Sam’s self-indulgent, voyeuristic proclivities, not much really transpires for a while. There’s some noise on the TV and a local zine about a canine serial killer (yup, a doggie mass murderer) and a billionaire who dies in an enigmatic crash around the corner. Then Sarah goes missing and things get weird. David Lynch weird. 

What follows is a seductive, disjointed downward spiral as Sam sets off searching for Sarah. Along the many strange pit stops are a crypt party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (hello Janet!), a dance club where Sam, on some type of hallucinogen, becomes wildly inspired by R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and at every turn there’s Balloon Girl (Grace Van Patten), an aspiring actress and more who saunters through the film in a bathing suit, high heels, a red ballon and tight, tight piggy tails – in short, Lolita incarnate. Perhaps not intentional, but come on, onetime Spider-Man star Garfield recursively gets goo on his hands, be it the egging some kids lay on his car (his retribution to which is over the top and disturbing) or the masturbation session to his dad’s classic 1970s Playboy issue, and at one point (overt nod and wink) a Spidey comic book gets stuck to his hand. Hmm. In a more audacious scene, Sam kicks in the bathroom door on a pop star (he needs the secret code behind a hit’s lyrics) and drags the icon off the commode, but not before we get a long glimmer of the chart-buster’s fecal output, and beats him like Dan Rather in that R.E.M. song. 

As gonzo as much of that sounds, the edgy, “did that really just happen?” bounciness of “Under the Silver Lake” becomes its appeal. Without such it might not have worked. If there’s any downside, it’s Sam’s passive-aggressive ebb and flows (not the psychological definition): He’s largely passive, with extreme eruptions of delusional rage. It doesn’t all hold together, and even if it did, would Sam be the kind of guy I’d want a beer with? The real bell ringer here is the exceptional cinematography by Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows” and “Us”) and the stylistic verve he and Mitchell cook up – it’s transfixing and transportive beyond all rights. As an erotic thriller, “Under the Silver Lake” might not quite achieve its money shot, but it is an ambitious, titillating spectacle, and a promise of more alluring things to come.


28 Feb

‘Greta’: Good deed introduces a mother figure, who must be survived with a surrogate sister


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Neil Jordan, who’s always existed somewhere between the arthouse and the cineplex, is responsible for such notable films as “Mona Lisa” (1986), “The Crying Game” (1992) and “Interview with the Vampire” (1994), for which, he famously paired heartthrobs Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. The Irish filmmaker hasn’t produced a feature film in more than six years (since the 2012 female vampire foray, “Byzantium”), so it’s something of a relief that we get “Greta,” a boilerplate psychological thriller that flirts deliciously with camp but sadly enjoins cliche.

At least Jordan has Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe, who leave it all up on the screen. Moretz, so lethally infectious in “Kick-Ass” (2010), stars as the object of obsession, Frances McCullen, a recent Smith College grad from Boston living in a swank New York City loft and working at an even swankier midtown eatery. The wished-you-lived-there pad comes courtesy of Frances’s bestie from Smith, Erica (Monroe) whose dad bought it for her as a graduation present or something. Life’s good, and even though this duo don’t seem to want for much, they’re relatively down to earth – maybe with the exception of Erica’s predilection for avocado colonics.

Trouble comes in the form of a Kate Spade or Gucci handbag (I can never tell them apart) that Frances finds on a subway car and returns dutifully to its owner, a widowed French woman named Greta (Huppert) who lives in a quaint country-styled bungalow tucked down a dingy back alley. It’s an odd juxtaposition, to say the least; a Hobbit shire in the middle of the Seaport (which, given the harbor shots from his office, is where Frances’s father works) might be less conspicuous. Nevertheless, little of the action takes place on the streets of NYC; “Greta” is an intimate and cloistered affair.

Not to give away too much, but the bag’s a plant by Greta, who’s not even French (she pretends to be, even through she’s from Hungary) and leverages the return to sow a motherly bond with Frances (who coincidently just lost her mother) and wheedles her way into every aspect of her surrogate daughter’s life. What begins as cute and a tad clingy becomes creepy real fast. You could think of it as “Single White Female” (1992) – the mother edition – or “Unsane”(2018), where a frustrated stalker begins to take on the ubiquitous and near-superhuman qualities of Michael Meyers.

Much hangs on Huppert, who casts a long, menacing shadow over Frances. The French actor, who rightfully earned an Academy Award nomination for her 2016 performance as a stalked woman in Paul Verhoeven’s rape-revenge psycho-sexual thriller “Elle,” has been making films since the 1970s. She’s played opposite France’s other great thespian export, Catherine Deneuve, in François Ozon’s murder-comedy, “8 Women” (2002) and appeared with Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken in Michael Cimino’s epic, post-“Deerhunter” letdown, “Heaven’s Gate” (1980). But my favorite Huppert film to date has to be France’s 1983 Best Foreign Language nominee, “Entre Nous,” about two women trying to survive occupied France during the World War II.

Moretz holds up her end of the film. Her Frances is more actively resilient and nuanced than most victims in these types of endeavors, though plot wise she’s more the focal point for Huppert’s maniacal moonshot to orbit. The real revelation here is Monroe, who might feel like a fresh face but appeared in Sophia Coppola’s “Bling Ring” (2013) and more notably, anchored the quirky cult chiller, “It Follows” (2014). Here as the compassionate can-do roomie she exudes a tang of Sharon Stone moxie, but the real win is the sisterly bond she and Moretz form on screen – a touch of Huppert and Miou-Miou in “Entre Nous.” It’s genuine enough to raise the stakes and Jordan, clearly aware he’s playing with genre, tries to avoid the usual trappings. For the most part he does, but not completely.