Something in the Dirt (2022) poster

Something in the Dirt (2022)

Rating:


USA. 2022.

Crew

Directors – Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, Screenplay – Justin Benson, Producers – Justin Benson, David Lawson Jr. & Aaron Moorhead, Photography – Aaron Moorhead, Music – Jimmy LaValle, Visual Effects Supervisor – Alban Kasicki, Production Design – Ariel Vida. Production Company – Rustic Films.

Cast

Justin Benson (Levi Danube), Aaron Moorhead (John Daniels), Sarah Adina Smith (Dr. Rita Miller), Issa Lopez (Isabel), Vinny Curran (Dr Vincent Daniels)


Plot

Barman Levi Danube moves into an apartment in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon. He befriends his neighbour John Daniels, who has just split with his husband, and offers Levi the leftover furniture. After helping Levi move in, they both note strange light patterns coming off a chunk of crystal Levi found outside and then see the crystal levitate. The two believe they are witnessing some paranormal phenomenon and decide to collaborate and make a documentary about it. They soon observe other phenomena, including lights and heat coming out of the closet. John, a former maths teacher, finds strange mathematical patterns associated with everything that is happening. This leads the two of them down a rabbit hole of strange connected coincidences in search of a greater meaning behind the phenomena.


The directing/writing duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have emerged as a strong creative force in the last decade. The two first appeared with the reality-bending backwoods film Resolution (2012) and continued through Spring (2014), an amazing film about a romance between a human and an immortal; the Bonestorm segment of V/H/S Viral (2014); The Endless (2019), a continuation of Resolution about a cult and featuring more reality bendings; Synchronic (2019) about a drug that causes the user to time travel and episodes of Marvel’s Moon Knight (2022), as well as produced After Midnight (2019).

Something in the Dirt was very much a home production that was shot during the Covid lockdown, using Justin Benson’s own apartment as location. As the end credits tribute, the film was shot with around twelve friends, several of whom appear as talking heads on screen.

Benson and Moorhead have a love of ‘the unexplained.’ You can see it in the mysterious reality-bending phenomena that appear in Resolution and The Endless. Something in the Dirt is not connected to these other two films but could easily make a third entry in the trilogy. It takes the unexplained phenomena of those two films and pumps it up on steroids.

Directors/writers and stars Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson in Something in the Dirt (2022)
(l to r) Directors/writers and stars Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson

The film begins innocuously enough with Benson moving in to an empty apartment, Moorhead offering some free furniture and helping move it – before they notice a strange shard of hollowed-out crystal that was found outside that refracts the light in unusual ways and then levitates off the ground. This takes them down a bizarre rabbit hole involving abstract mathematics, numerology, the supposed existence of the Secret Society The Pythagorean Brotherhood, signal boxes across the road that broadcasts Morse Code messages, a closet that emits heat and radiation and is maybe an other-dimensional gateway, cats that may be spreading parasites that control human behaviour, Simulation Theory, strange alien and possibly other-dimensional fruit, other artefacts and finds leading to geocache coordinates and cemeteries that in turn connect to other clues, how the street plan of the area seems to map over onto symbols that keep recurring, and where things even appear to have influenced their lives to lead them there. Throughout, the number 1908, the year that much of the city planning of the area was laid down, has strange significance and keeps coming up. Everything has an uncanny habit of overlapping in terms of strange coincidences and names and places that keep recurring. It is a film that seems determined to be the ultimate Conspiracy Theory rabbit hole.

The film is constantly blurring between straight dramatic set-ups, talking heads interviews after the event Mockumentary-style, scenes where we see action through the camera lens Found Footage style, or where Benson and Moorhead can be seen rehearsing scenes for a dramatic restaging (which is presumably the film that we are watching). The sense you get is of a film that is itself shifting where you cannot be sure what is ‘real’ and what is staged even though you are watching a work of fiction.

For a duo who don’t have a background as actors, Benson and Moorhead give surprisingly good performances. They create complex characters with detailed pasts that come out in surprising ways throughout the show. They, Moorhead in particular, will often wander off into thoughtful philosophical musings and insights into some aspect of life. Moorhead develops an unnerving intensity throughout – the gleam in his eyes in the scene where he prepares to eat the other-dimensional fruit “I might be one of the first people in the universe to taste an inter-dimensional fruit. If I died doing that, I’m fine with that,” is particularly unnerving. The two are not afraid to get ugly – Benson casts himself as a sex offender, for one – and there is a confrontation later in the film where the two argue and accuse the other of being complete fuckups while making them face brutal truths about themselves.


Trailer here


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