Film Reviews

Something in the Dirt (2022)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The filmmaking duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson didn’t let the current pandemic stop them from making the latest Sci-fi Horror flick that came leaking out of their creative minds. And its quite possibly their strangest movie for some equally as strange times. Something in the Dirt digs itself deep into a fragmented rabbit hole of supernatural phenomena.

It wouldn’t truly be a Benson and Moorhead creation without the stars themselves appearing in front of their own camera. It comes as no surprise that they produce such convincing chemistry as the lead characters, they’ve been doing it for so long now that it only gets better with age. There’s no doubt that some of its authenticity came from the real life struggles that have come from living through a pandemic.

Benson plays Levi, a bartender soon to be fleeing LA with a murky past plagued by some felony.

Moorhead plays John, a once school teacher who now charges powered scooters around the city but primarily mooches off of his ex husband’s finances to really make ends meet. Needless to say, these two have quite a bit of free time on their hands.

It’s not surprising that these two LA-loners immediately hit it off shortly after Levi moves into a nearby unit. It’s as if characters like these are magnetized to one another, like it’s exactly how it’s meant to be. They have very little prospects at this point, nearly no proclaimed purpose, and no friends. They are as odd as the citizens that hang around Hollywood Boulevard not that far from their apartment complex and honestly, it makes all the sense in the world that they live in such a close proximity to this bizarre radius of the city. It very much feels like its own little bermuda triangle zone.

Despite the film primarily taking place inside these two bleak and meager apartments in only a sliver of LA, you can still feel the city all around you. It’s in the air. And it’s clear that Levi and John have been breathing it in for far too long. Some of the best stretches come from these glimpses of the outside world, the same one we live in, in fact. 

It’s all established in the opening of the film where John and Levi meet for the first time. The opening shots are tucked between some apartment buildings in a poor excuse for a courtyard. Through the cracks above the buildings, commercial jets fly over low while smoke fills the sky as helicopters hurry to put out the burning Hollywood hills off in the distance. It’s done so naturally it’s eerie. We even hear word of the recent lockdown that we can only assume was from Covid. Yet more reason to spend so much time indoors.

Not long after the two form this new friendship, things start to get weird and it starts with an unexplainable phenomenon that happens inside Levi’s new apartment. Some sort of broken crystal ashtray floats all on its own in front of a window, reflecting a rainbow light throughout the entire room. The essence of the magic seems to originate in John’s closet, a tiny room surrounded by cracked and blood(??) stained walls. This is all it takes to set the wheels of curiosity into motion. This captivating experience hands the two guys a now purposeful shovel and they get to digging down the rabbit hole in search of meaning and purpose, tirelessly documenting it every step of the way.

I’m not the biggest fan of the whole mockumentary aspect of it, particularly the interviews, but it feels necessary and provides the facade of a mostly outside perspective as well as humorous material. The documentary inside the movie is sufficient narrative glue that holds it all together, regardless whether it didn’t really land for me.

It does have me desperately wanting the two filmmakers to actually do some legitimate documentary work. I bet they could capture some even stranger corners of the real world.

One university scholar roped into this madness presents us with the two definitive hypotheses. Either Levi and John put together a beautiful and intricate puzzle and some of it appeared extraordinary or pieces were merely jammed together to force some abstract meaning.  But either way the results are the same. John and Levi definitely pluck from their respective channels of information…..podcasts, reddit threads, documentaries, even their own theories….continually chasing the meaning of it all, everything and anything in between. The deeper the two guys dig, the deeper and more fragmented everything becomes.

It’s not long before things get completely out of hand and it results in one hell of a finale. Grueling months of investigation have passed since the two amateur documentarians began their descent into all scientific phenomena and conspiracy theory known to mankind and we find ourselves at New Year’s Eve. Of course the two are cooped up in Levi’s apartment desperating looking for the latest instance of the supernatural but this magical night will be their last together and not just as dicey friends. Fireworks fill the night sky, booming and cracking the entire night and it feels like a lifetime. John wakes up the next morning, with Levi nowhere to be found. But don’t worry, John as that crackpot theory covered and he is confident that his old pal floated away just as

You shouldn’t trust either men, but you certainly can’t trust ole John. Levi has drug issues among other flaws but John seems sickly addicted to his exploration of the rabbit hole. Things at this point start to feel less supernatural and more sinister. John always felt more in control of the narrative and it’s just as clear in the mockumentary interviews he takes part in. Everything feels a part of some elaborate plan. Maybe Levi just bolted in the middle of the night in fear of his life or maybe he didn’t even make it that far. But who knows really, maybe Levi did manifest his own floating powers and ascend into the night sky never to be seen again. 

Something in the Dirt premiered at Sundance 2022 in the NEXT Innovator category and it’s actually their first time in the festival. While the nomination is great, the filmmaking duo has already solidified themselves as two names to remember. Resolution, Spring, The Endless, episodic work on V/H/S Viral, Synchronic, The Twilight Zone’s latest reboot, Netflix’s Archive 81 were all some fantastic feats of low budget grounded science fiction and they craftily functioned in a vast amount of roles for each. Writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, producers and actors, these two filmmakers can do it all and they once again deliver on their established versatility with the making of and release of Something in the Dirt all within these bizarro times, proving not even a pandemic could prevent them from working that strange otherworldly cinematic magic.

Keep an eye out for this one’s release!

Fourth Film Screened at Sundance 2022

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