David Pearce’s review published on Letterboxd:
"This is the girl."
The main issue I have with Mulholland Drive is not the film itself, but my own expectations. There's one scene that I'd seen years ago, a scene that affected me so much that it was both the reason I wanted to watch the film, and the reason I avoided watching it. I have referred to it in almost all of my horror film reviews, the diner / "A Living Nightmare" scene is, in my opinion, one of the greatest scenes of any film. I could write pages about the lingering camera, slow pace, sound editing, distracted camera movements and all of the other reasons I feel that scene is so incredibly terrifying. Unfortunately, I feel the years of suspense and anticipation before finally watching the rest of the film may have ruined the experience for me. David Lynch has crafted an absolute masterpiece, but I can't help but think the rest of the film pails in comparison to that early scene.
In the context of the movie I actually really liked the placement of the diner scene. That scene has this feeling of fulfilled suspense, Lynch uses the very conventional tropes of horror, in building to a jump scare which arrives at the end of the scene, but for the rest of the film there is no jump scare. That means I have this anticipation for the rest of the film that something will happen, and that feeling follows over to most other suspenseful scenes. I wrote in my Eraserhead review that Lynch has this marvellous way of making even a black screen of nothing seem scary. The combination of intense music and lingering POV shots are ever present in this film, much like Eraserhead, a technique of Lynch's that always frightens me. I felt the intense atmosphere played into the rather complex story very well, because of the way Lynch draws attention to small aspects of the scene. I don't want to even touch the story in fear of spoiling it for anyone, especially those who have already seen it, all I'll say is that I was lost until the last 20 minutes. The ending beautifully wrapped up the meaning of the entire movie for me, and while my interpretation may not be the most complex, I always admire a film that's so open to legitimate theories and debate.
What I feel ruins the film are the instances where Lynch steps away from horror and focuses more on drama and at times comedy. The Betty Elms character, and most of Naomi Watts's performance in general, felt overly quirky. The story of the director Adam Kesher felt quite uninteresting and kind of faded away as the film went on. Kesher was this kind of 'down on his luck' cocky loser you'd more commonly find in a comedy than this intense psychological thriller/mystery. The film as a whole felt totally undecided as to what it wanted to be. I'm not referring to the story, I felt that was wonderfully told, but the tone was incredibly inconsistent and at times the film felt awkward to watch. There were obviously elements of surrealism, the film featured comedic characters, a neo-noir/mystery based story, a romantic sub-plot which may actually be the main plot depending on your interpretation, a few scenes of intense psychological horror, and a tone of a thriller throughout. I don't want to say the film didn't work as a whole, but having only seen Lynch films where he mainly subverts the conventions of the genres he's playing within, it feels very strange to watch a film where he's kind of throwing everything into one big heap. I hate to say it, but despite the story working extremely well, I can still see where this film was adapted from a television pilot. I felt there were no loose ends, but the character of Adam Kesher featured too much time on screen considering his relatively small role in the narrative, and the brief scenes of whodunit detective work felt more suited for a formulaic television show.
I wouldn't waiver from calling this film a masterpiece. The narrative Lynch tells is just on a completely different level to other mystery films, and the horror sequences are as good if not better than Eraserhead. I find it hard to fully enjoy this film, in part due to my introduction to it through my favourite scene, but mainly because I feel a film of this length with such an inconsistent tone makes for a difficult watch. While I'm being hard on the film, Mulholland Drive is the film an old teacher of mine used to introduce me to film language in horror films. Essentially I wouldn't have the understanding, or at least the respect, I have for film-making and theory if it weren't for that teacher and this film. Maybe I hold it to a higher standard because of the role it played in my introduction to cinema, or maybe it's just nostalgia. Either way, this is an important film to me and in recommending it I hope someone else may have a similar experience watching it.