The fifth film from the dynamic filmmaking duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Something in the Dirt is a cosmic sci-fi puzzle buddy comedy – the kind of film that only Benson and Moorhead could pull off.
In the film, new neighbors John (Moorhead) and Levi (Benson) witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, and realize that documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city, and each other.
Something in the Dirt showcases their particular brand of offbeat storytelling, though classifying the film’s genre is no easy task. With elements of buddy comedy, cosmic horror, supernatural mystery and existential explorations, conversations between John and Levi cycle through some rather heady topics as the film bounces between narrative formats.
It’s mostly a real-time third-person capturing of the events (with flashes of stock footage to accompany the dialogue), but it’s also partially a retrospective documentary that incorporates their own “found” footage and reenactments.
It’s an interesting structure that allows the story to unfold just in the way they want it to. Hints are dropped and details are unreliable so – as an audience – we’re guided and misled into choosing what reality we want to believe. It’s a unique beast, born out of COVID lockdown.
The film was shot almost entirely in Benson’s own apartment with a tiny crew; it’s a testament to the power of DIY filmmaking. Benson and Moorhead are very hands-on with their films and – between the two of them – always wear multiple hats (writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, and visual effects).
It seems that with each new film, Benson and Moorhead are pushing themselves a little further to just get weird with it. The characters are unexpected (a gay doomsday evangelical and an asexual registered sex offender) and their performances are grounded and humble in a way that you want to see as much of them as you possibly can.
They’re working through a lot, both in their own lives and with this great cosmic mystery they’ve stumbled upon. LA serves as a muted backdrop to their drifting lives, stripping away any associated glamour to show the city as it is; with wandering coyotes, low-flying airplanes, electrical hums, and the accepted looming threat of a potential forest fire.
Something in the Dirt throws a lot at its audience, but it’s less grandiose and bombastic as some of their prior films. Those expecting something as action-driven as Synchronic or The Endless will be surprised by its calm pace. While there’s still a lot going on, it focuses more on theories, theorems, relationships, and humanity.
It’s appropriately named; Something in the Dirt is perhaps their most grounded film, despite all the otherworldly mystique. Fans of Benson and Moorhead will enjoy the cognitive sci-fi and savvy storytelling we’ve come to expect from the duo. With their characteristic flair and creative chemistry, it checks off a lot of boxes. That said, if you’re hoping for something fast-paced and punchy, perhaps keep digging.
Something in the Dirt played as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival‘s 2022 lineup. The film releases on November 22.