Under the Silver Lake is a 2018 American neo-noir mystery film written, produced and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Set in Los Angeles, it stars Andrew Garfield as a young man who sets out on a quest to investigate the sudden disappearance of his neighbour (Riley Keough), only to stumble upon an elusive and dangerous large-scale conspiracy.
Sam is an affable but aimless young man with an interest in conspiracy theories and finding hidden messages in everyday popular culture, who lives a lazy, jobless life in Los Angeles. One day he meets and develops a crush on his new neighbour Sarah. She tells him to come back the next day, but when he does, she and her roommates all seemingly moved out during the night. Meanwhile, he becomes fascinated with a zine titled Under the Silver Lake, which features story elements reminiscent of recent real-life events such as a serial dog killer. After following a woman he spotted going through Sarah’s apartment, Sam starts following a chain of individuals and events in the hopes of finding information about Sarah, and starts believing he is being followed. However, he later identifies Sarah as one of the three women who died in a car fire alongside billionaire mogul Jefferson Sevence, recognizing one of the victims’ hat to be hers. After a conspiracy theorist friend of Sam, the author of the graphic novel, and obsessed with the back cover of an old cereal box is found dead from an apparent suicide, Sam learns from reviewing his friend’s security tapes that he was killed by the Owl’s Kiss, a womanly creature from Under the Silver Lake; he concludes that his friend’s death is related to the ongoing conspiracy.
By following a series of clues hidden in songs and historic monuments, Sam meets the “Homeless King”, a man who brings him to an underground bunker beneath Griffith Park leading into a supermarket. With the help of women he met through his investigation and who turned out to be connected, Sam finds the “Songwriter”, the man who wrote all the popular hit songs of the current and past generations. The songwriter confirms that all his songs, as well as most of pop culture, contain hidden messages; he claims that the messages are not for Sam and tries to shoot him, leading Sam to use his idol Kurt Cobain’s Fender Mustang to kill him by smashing his head. After sharing his findings with Sevence’s daughter Millicent, she gives him a bracelet with strange symbols that she found in her father’s office, which she believes to be connected to his disappearance; she is then shot dead in a pose strikingly similar to that of the cover of Sam’s favorite Playboy issue.
By combining the bracelet, the prize inside his friend’s old cereal box, and a The Legend of Zelda map featured in the first-ever issue of Nintendo Power, Sam is able to find a location that doesn’t show on web mapping where he finds a man and three women. The man reveals that through history a selected few wealthy men like himself choose to lock themselves into underground bunkers similar to the one Sam previously discovered in order for their souls to “ascend” to a new blissful realm of existence, taking three “wives” to go with them. He confirms that Sarah and her roommates were Jefferson Sevence’s wives, and that their deaths were faked in order for the four of them to ascend. Once they went inside their bunker, it was sealed and cannot be left, but as the process takes months and they can be contacted via videotelephony, Sam gets to talk with Sarah, who confirms that she entered the bunker on her own will. As Sarah leaving the bunker is not an option, the two share an emotional farewell and hang up.