Cult films are a slippery snake to wrestle. By their very nature, they are beyond explication. Though they all start in their respective categories, i.e., comedy, drama, thriller, cult films eventually climb to the high and holy grounds of midnight movie theaters and Sunday matinees; or they’re shown in basement viewing parties with stale Cheetos and rabid, costumed fans chanting bizarre slogans and fist pumping the air. For instance, in the case of The Big Lebowski—some would argue the ultimate cult film—there are annual gatherings at bowling alleys where folks dress up as their favorite characters and drink White Russians till they’re crying milky tears of joy. The mother and father of them all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has famously and infamously shown in midnight movie theaters for over four decades. Fans know every line of dialogue and sing the catchy tunes in thigh-high garters and shiny black stilettos. A contender for the worst film of all time (right up against another cult favorite The Room) Troll 2 didn’t even get a theatrical release and garnered the lowest score possible on Rotten Tomatoes: Zero! But over the years, kids and stoners became mesmerized with the troll movie without a single troll in it upon late night HBO viewings. What followed was a phenomenon of screenings all over the country, in midwest basements, west coast coffee shops, and moribund drive-in theaters. It seems Troll 2 was so bad it was good!

Which begs the question: What is a cult film? Well, the definition varies depending on who you ask. Some will say it’s simply a “weird” movie like Donnie Darko or The Nightmare Before Christmas; others say it’s a film that no one understands, such as Eraserhead or Cloud Atlas; and still, others contend cult films are simply movies made for people who are under the influence of drugs! But a cult film is really just a film that acquires a cult following—for whatever reason. Indeed, some cult movies achieve cult status because of their cinematic brilliance; think A Clockwork Orange or Apocalypse Now. There are the ones that are cult because they just suck so badly, like the aforementioned The Room or Plan 9 from Outer Space. But just about all cult films have one thing in common: they mess with people’s minds.

Enter Under the Silver Lake.

Under the Silver Lake is a THC-laden paranoid phantasmagoric maze of a mystery all wrapped up in a pseudo-hard-boiled drama. Sam, as portrayed by the near-comatose Andrew Garfield, is a lovable mope watching his life pass by in a stoned haze. The poor guy can’t seem to get any rocket fuel in his tank even though he lives in the super cool east Los Angeles district of Silver Lake surrounded by beautiful young women and creative hipsters. But Sam’s spirit awakens upon eyeing the beguiling Sarah, played by Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Girlfriend Experience, American Honey) lounging by the pool and giving the world major attitude, if not a defiant middle finger. Sam spends one PG-13 enchanted evening with the fey beauty but is crestfallen when she disappears the very next day. Intrigued and having nothing much better to do, Sam ventures out to the seductive and oddly drab suburbs of East Los Angeles to find the winsome gentlewoman. What follows is an Owsley-esque journey through the land formerly known as Ivanhoe and right down a rabbit hole filled with vicious chicks, underground kings, Hollywood decadence, dog killers, the Illuminati, as well as the man who writes the songs that make the whole world sing.

Under the Silver Lake looks like it very well could be a cult film … on paper. But in the open ballpark, it’s anybody’s guess. The film adopts many of the themes that have become staples of the cult genre; namely, the fascination with parallel universes, hidden messages, secret societies, nihilism, and the end of days—not to mention the sheer all-consuming tidal pull of female beauty and the feminine mystique. And there’s most certainly a lot to like about the film. It’s intriguing and enigmatic; it’s got its share of violence and nefarious characters. It also has the obscure, even cryptic, visual quality that is indispensable in a would-be cult film. And it’s got an off-the-wall-bollocks that is, at times, thoroughly captivating. However, at other times, the narrative loses steam and seems to just stare at the cosmos for no apparent reason. Some of the scenes feel a bit repetitive, Sam sits around and muses for a good bit of the film, and the insistent pop-culture references can get tiresome and unnecessarily obstruent.

Under the Silver Lake, produced by A24 and written and directed by David Robert Mitchell of It Follows infamy, passed the first hurdle of cult status with difficulties, mysteries, and controversies in production, as well as multiple release delays. Finally, after two years of speculation and Sturm und Drang, the film came out on April 19th in a limited release capacity. But it’s okay because you can’t be thought of as a cult film without a bit of disputation. And consider, even the trailer makes the film look as if it’s the number one contender for the next great cult film. But that’s the thing about cult movies; they are not created—rather, they emerge.

Just remember, if you do find out what lies beneath the silver lake, you may very well drown! Ha! Enjoy!

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