Blue Velvet (1986) and Under the Silver Lake (2019) may be separated by decades, but these two neo-noir thrillers share striking similarities in their exploration of lurking darkness beneath the sunny surfaces of idyllic neighborhoods. Both Films are available on Max as of today.
Both films follow an amateur investigator diving into the seedy underbelly of his surroundings, pulled deeper into a web of mystery. In Blue Velvet, Kyle MacLachlan’s character discovers a severed ear that leads him to a sultry lounge singer caught in a twisted criminal plot. In Under the Silver Lake, Andrew Garfield plays a slacker snooping on eccentric neighbors, seeking to unravel urban legends and conspiracies.
David Lynch and David Robert Mitchell prove masters at building a sense of unease and menace within ordinary suburban settings. In one moment, the neighborhoods appear tranquil and cheerful with manicured lawns and sunny skies. Yet danger and depravity always lie just around the corner, from Dennis Hopper’s gas-huffing psycho in Blue Velvet to the voyeuristic old man in Under the Silver Lake.
Both directors utilize visual motifs that take on symbolic meaning the deeper the characters dig. The ear in Blue Velvet represents the lurid sounds Jeffrey will hear. The coyote in Under the Silver Lake appears in key moments, potentially signaling predatory evil. Repeated imagery complements the growing sense of paranoia.
The two films also share a dreamlike quality as the logic of the straight world blurs with surrealism. Blue Velvet’s Dororthy wears bright red high heels and lipstick, fantastically contrasting with the dark mystery around her. In Silver Lake, naked elderly people leap off a balcony in slow motion – a memorably bizarre sight. Sinister absurdities abound in these tales.
Made decades apart, Blue Velvet and Under the Silver Lake both offer thoughtful examination of innocence lost and the darker aspects of human nature that emerge when digging beneath the surface. Their amateur detectives discover truths about themselves as they excavate the mysteries and dangers around them. For compelling and stylish descents into neo-noir madness, both films deliver.
Looking deeper, both films also utilize contrast, protagonist parallels, femme fatales, and notable soundtracks to heighten their neo-noir moods.
The clash between sinister happenings and cheerful external appearances amplifies the sense of unease. Jeffrey in Blue Velvet and Sam in Silver Lake are aimless men drawn down rabbit holes out of voyeuristic curiosity. Dangerous female characters Dorothy and Sarah embody sexuality and mystery that enthralls the protagonists. The films’ soundtracks punctuate the absurdity from Bobby Vinton’s title track to punk rock riffs.
Both movies also directly build upon influences like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch’s own Twin Peaks with their takes on neo-noir. They showcase how certain motifs and styles translate across eras to reinvent genre traditions.
Ultimately, Blue Velvet and Under the Silver Lake offer their own unique spins on excavating the darkness dwelling beneath the façade of sunny normality. Their shared elements show the lasting power of these themes and techniques to engage viewers, no matter the decade. For compelling trips into neo-noir intrigue, both films deliver.