Something in the Dirt is the latest film from the filmmaking team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless, Moom Knight). Shot during the pandemic with a minimal crew it’s something of a return to the early days of their career, shooting Resolution. Only this time they have ten years of experience shooting features to call on. The results are equal parts fascinating and frustrating.
Levi (Justin Benson) just needs a place to stay till he leaves Los Angeles, so he jumps on a non-lease apartment sight unseen. There he meets John (Aaron Moorhead) who’s been living in the building for ten or so years. But he’s never encountered anything like the strange light and floating objects the pair see in Levi’s apartment one afternoon.
Sensing a chance to make some money they start researching the phenomena, recording themselves every step of the way.
While Something in the Dirt isn’t an actual mockumentary, it feels like a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of those paranormal researcher films, real or fake. The scenes of them setting up the equipment, the odd activities that keep getting odder as the film goes on, interruptions by talking heads and interview footage, etc.
On that level, it will depend how interesting you find this kind of film in the first place because the story takes its time getting to the really weird stuff. That’s in part because it’s fairly unfocused and keeps going off on tangents. I can see some viewers losing interest before it really gets down to business.
On another level, it’s a character study of the two very different, but very troubled leads as they get pulled down a rabbit hole filled with strange phenomena, stranger theories, and a growing distrust of each other. The events that they see, or claim to have seen, become at times a reflection of their own demons.
Like their other films, the human element is at least as important as its horror or science fictional trappings. But here they seem a bit more strained, maybe because of the film’s lack of focus is stretched out over two hours. After a while watching the duo sitting around chain smoking and discussing seemingly impenetrable mathematical and scientific topics started to wear on me. Combined with the seemingly random footage of electric meters, closeups of cigarettes, home movies, etc., Something in the Dirt started to remind me of Masking Threshold at times. I know some will see that as a good thing but to me, it wasn’t.
Thankfully Benson and Moorhead keep steering the film back into more interesting territory before I lost interest. I suspect their more devoted fans have a higher tolerance for their film’s mumblecore moments and won’t be bothered at all. More casual viewers however will probably be wishing Something in the Dirt was at least fifteen minutes shorter.
Actually, if you haven’t seen any of their previous films, Something in the Dirt is probably not the film to start with. Go back and watch Resolution and The Endless first, they’re a lot easier to get into and make a perfect introduction to the idiosyncrasies of their work. If you like them then give this one a go. Because, in the end, Something in the Dirt is worth the effort to get through, but I hope their next film reigns itself in a bit more and finds some focus. I’d hate to see these two talented filmmakers disappear down a rabbit hole of self-indulgent wankery.
Lightbulb Film Distribution will release Something In The Dirt in UK Cinemas on November 4th, and on Digital Download & Blu-ray on December 5th. XYZ Films will release it to theatres in the US on the same date with VOD and Digital availability on November 22nd. And if you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can give you some suggestions.