[Sundance 2022 Review] 'Something in the Dirt' Pulls Viewers Deep into a Cosmic Mind Melt
…As one character so eloquently puts it in directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Something in the Dirt, which just had its world premiere at Sundance, there’s a whole lot of strange and unexplained out there.
Life is weird. Benson and Moorhead’s work is weird (that’s a compliment). And Something in the Dirt may be the weirdest, most Benson and Moorhead movie yet.
Written by Benson, Something in the Dirt is set in Los Angeles, which John (Moorhead) describes to his new neighbor, Levi (Benson), as being “like Halloween, but just all the time”. It’s true, and it’s why I love LA. When Levi and John discover a supernatural phenomena in Levi’s crummy apartment, the two down on their luck, potentially new best friends decide to document it in hopes of becoming famous. But what starts as fascination becomes obsession, sending them further and further down theoretical rabbit holes while threatening to destroy their new bond and quite possibly the very galaxy itself.
For years, Benson and Moorhead have been making some of the most unique cinema out there. Resolution, Spring, The Endless…these guys never settle for the dreaded “normal”. Every one of their stories is something wholly original and all its own, and Something in the Dirt is no exception. This movie takes the viewer on an introspective journey filled with cosmic wonder and supernatural terror and it’s an adventure unlike any other that you’ll take this year.
Shot during the pandemic, Something in the Dirt at first has a smaller feel than Benson and Moorhead’s other work. We aren’t soaring through the gorgeous streets of Italy or wandering the crowded confines of a spooky cult. This is perhaps their most intimate work yet, set primarily inside Levi’s apartment and focused solely on the filmmakers, allowing for a showcase of their acting talents, which are extraordinary. Benson’s moving script is just the half of it. Both Benson and Moorhead bring a depth to their characters that is simultaneously tender yet uncomfortable and even horrifying to explore. Something in the Dirt isn’t just about the mysteries of the world around us but the complex nature of human beings. What we are on the surface is not always what we are on the inside, and the film consistently realizes that through what is ultimately an emotional rollercoaster ride as we learn more about each man and what’s brought them to this pathetic point in their lives.
For as personal as it is, Something in the Dirt pulls you so deep into the conspiracy of it all with thread after thread of grand, unsettling ideas that it somehow feels like the biggest movie the talented filmmakers have ever gifted to our eyes…and minds.
Something in the Dirt is like The X-Files meets Unsolved Mysteries. You can practically hear Mark Snow’s X-Files theme as Levi discovers a crystal floating in his living room. Add in pulsing lights in the closet, some unexplainable noises, and it feels straight out of the hit sci-fi show, with Levi and John stepping into the roles of Mulder and Scully. At the same time, the film gives us that Unsolved Mysteries tone, cutting back and forth between the mysterious events and present-day talking head footage from the documentary which the two are making. This adds a foreboding sense that something awful has happened, or will happen, and we’ll soon learn what’s so “unsolved” about the case of the floating crystal.
There is so much to be “solved” in Something in the Dirt that it’ll make your brain melt. Explode. Pack up its bags and leave. Whichever, it’s a mind-shattering experience that is downright riveting.
Benson and Moorhead force the audience to confront an uncomfortable truth about ourselves. Something in the Dirt is all about exploring our need to feel like we have a greater purpose. We want to be more than the pathetic drunk or the sad-sack that no one likes left by their lover. Levi and John believe they’ve been chosen somehow, and in that begin finding meaning in everything. They have to be right. Because if they're wrong, then what does that make them?
The film introduces concepts ranging between ghosts to aliens to the Illuminati and even the geometry of magnetism. Something in the Dirt is a vibe, and that vibe is hanging out with your stoner friends and talking about weird shit like what if the stars are salt and the Earth is just some higher being’s pretzel? It’s a brain-buster of a film that finds the magic in everything, and that’s what so wonderful about it. Both guys are possibly losing their goddamn minds, sure (or are they?), but watching Something in the Dirt instills the same enchanted feeling we all had believing in Santa as kids. The further down these two spiral, the more we want them to be right.
I want to believe and what not.
Throughout all of this, the filmmakers pour on that sensation that everything is connected. Various sequences of quick cutting assault the viewer to highlight the oddities of the conversation. When our characters mention the Illuminati, we suddenly get various images of everything they’re associated with. With each new discovery, it’s like we’re seeing the memories of the Universe, as well as eerie premonitions of what could be to come. Something in the Dirt slowly creeps into the mind and digs up every odd fascination we have. It’s profound, spiritual, and haunting to the core.
Something in the Dirt is the very definition of a slow-burn and won’t be for anyone seeking blistering excitement. Its intention is to hypnotize and gently pull you through the wonders of the universe. The effects are generally pretty corny and can take you out of the film at times, but a riveting script and painfully human performances from Benson and Moorhead more than make up for any technical flaws. Fans of Benson and Moorhead are going to adore Something in the Dirt, and even if you’re not a fan, you don’t want to miss this thought-provoking, carpet-ride through the stars of a movie.
By Matt Konopka
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