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Under the Silver Lake

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Under the Silver Lake Movie Poster Image
Unusual, languid, cryptic, graphic Hollywood-set film noir.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 139 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No clear takeaways, except that, possibly, too much curiosity can lead to discontent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sam is persistent and somewhat brave, but his quest is questionable; it's not clear whether he's searching for Sarah to save her or to help himself.

Violence

Violence isn't constant but extremely graphic/intense when it happens. A character bashes someone's head in with guitar; very bloody/gory. Someone punches little kids who are vandalizing cars. Guns and shooting. A character is shot and killed while swimming; blood streams in water. An animated character shoots himself in the head. A serial dog killer is on the loose; dead, gutted dog shown. Dream image of someone eating guts from animal corpse. Kicking. Punching. Bloody face. A squirrel falls from a tree and splats on the ground. News report about a man and three women found dead. Shouting.

Sex

Graphic sex scene includes man's bare bottom and woman's naked breasts. A masked naked woman is very briefly shown, full-frontal nude. A woman is topless for a long scene; several other topless women also shown. Masturbation. Man naked on toilet (nothing graphic shown). A man hires an escort. Kissing. Sam sleeps with more than one partner. Playboy magazine, nude photos shown. Penis graffiti. Vibrator shown (sniffed briefly). Advertisements with sexual imagery. Mention of prostitutes. Sex-related dialogue.

Language

Multiple uses of "f--k." Also "motherf---ing," "s--t," "a--hole," "t-ts," "ass," "d--kwad," "blow job," "damn."

Consumerism

Nintendo fan magazines shown. Playboy magazine shown. Coca-Cola mentioned. Amazon mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Spoken offer to smoke pot. Frequent social drinking. Main character smokes cigarettes. Character unknowingly eats drugged cookie; brief "drug trip."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Under the Silver Lake is a long, bizarre L.A.-based film noir from the director of It Follows. Violence isn't constant but is extreme when it happens: A man's face is bashed in (lots of blood and gore), a woman is shot under water (blood streams), characters use guns, a man beats up little kids for vandalizing cars, dead animals are seen, and more. Sexual content is also graphic. Several topless women are shown, there's a very brief full-frontal shot, and characters have sex in a pretty explicit scene. The main character (Andrew Garfield) sleeps with more than one partner and masturbates in one scene. Language includes multiple uses of "f--k" and more. Characters often drink and smoke casually, and there's potential drug use.

User Reviews

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What's the story?

In UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, unemployed Sam (Andrew Garfield) lives a do-nothing existence in his Hollywood apartment, obsessed with secret codes hidden in pop culture and with using binoculars to peer at his neighbors. One day he sees Sarah (Riley Keough) in the swimming pool and becomes fascinated by her. She invites him over for an evening, but when he returns the next day, she's vanished -- moved out in the middle of the night. Sam starts investigating, coming upon many strange clues, such as a serial dog killer, a mysterious 'zine, an old cereal box, Janet Gaynor, a dead billionaire, and a band that may have clues hidden among its song lyrics. As Sam drifts through a surreal Los Angeles following leads -- and getting sprayed by a skunk -- he discovers mysteries that are deeper, and stranger, than anything he ever imagined.

Is it any good?

This film noir plays out on a huge, unwieldy, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink canvas; it's bold and baffling, possibly great, but possibly a great folly. Under the Silver Lake -- David Robert Mitchell's follow-up to his stunning It Follows -- feels like a sophomore slump, even though it's actually Mitchell's third film (The Myth of the American Sleepover was his debut feature). It's like an effort to overcome writer's block by free-associating images and ideas and sticking them all in, without discernment or restraint. It's also a long movie, with many, many characters, some of whom occasionally return and others who are seen only once. First-time viewers might actually want to take notes.

But Mitchell's touch behind the camera is sure and confident, and he creates a wonderfully languid cityscape, filled with dreamers and oddballs. The wide, beautifully composed images create a mood that you almost want to breathe in, and the sound design -- and a fine score by Disasterpiece -- is delightfully mysterious and imaginative. Casting Garfield was a brilliant touch; his general amiability helps viewers latch on to this character and makes them want to continue following him, even as his adventures grow more and more bizarre -- and more starkly pessimistic. Under the Silver Lake leaves off with a bit of a strange, sour note, but it's not easily forgotten and perhaps cryptic enough to revisit.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Under the Silver Lake's violence. At its most intense, is it exciting or shocking? What did the filmmakers do to achieve this effect?

  • How is sex portrayed? What values are imparted?

  • One character implies that there's nothing meaningful on Earth and that the best bet is to leave. How do you feel about that sentiment? What do you find meaningful about our planet?

  • What's a "film noir"? What messages does the genre seek to convey? Does this movie qualify as one?

  • How are drinking, smoking, and drugs portrayed? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences for using them? Why does that matter?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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