Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead (Synchronic) are indie filmmaking all-stars and they approach each of their larger-than-life projects with as much scientific accuracy as the story will allow. Something In The Dirt is their version of a haunted house movie, coming at the problem with the perspective that ghosts are not real. If you take that option off the table, but you’re still experiencing weird electrical phenomena and poltergeist-type activity, how do you explain what the heck is happening? That’s the unique angle they approach this story from, leading their characters down a rabbit hole of theoretical physics and metaphysical quandaries.
Similar to their 2018 film The Endless, Benson and Moorehead star in the film themselves as the two leads Levi (Benson) and John (Moorehead). They also wrote it, produced it, shot it, edited it, and surely they packed their own lunches as well. But it’s exactly those stripped-down productions that can lead to some truly singular cinema. Something In The Dirt begins as a scrappy little indie film before it peels back its layers to reveal something more complex (maybe dangerously so).
“…a rabbit hole of theoretical physics and metaphysical quandaries.”
Levi is on his way out of Los Angeles, spending his last few months in a cheap apartment by the airport. He and his neighbor John become fast friends, sharing cigarettes and beers and furniture, but their relationship becomes cemented when they both experience an unexplainable phenomenon in Levi‘s apartment. At specific times throughout the day, when the two of them are together in Levi‘s living room together, they are bathed in a brilliant prism of colors that causes objects to levitate and the electronics in the room to go haywire.
Both down-and-out Los Angelenos Levi and John begin filming the mystery unfolding before their eyes in hopes that definitive proof of..whatever the heck this is..will make them rich, famous, and respected. That is at least what John thinks. Levi is a little more trepidatious about the whole situation but he’s swept up in John‘s obsessive recording and, to be fair, who doesn’t want to be credited with discovering the existence of extraterrestrial life or a gateway to another dimension? This could be the most important scientific discovery of the century and despite how scary it is, he’s drunk on the belief that what they’re doing is important. And that’s when things get weird…
“… a multi-layered unreliable narrative…”
Early in the 2nd act, we zoom out to reveal that what we’re actually watching is a documentary, and everything we saw leading up to this reveal has been an elaborate dramatization. The really interesting part is that these dramatizations are filmed by Levi and John, documenting everything as they remember it happening. But here’s the kicker: Once you accept that small parts of this story are dramatic re-tellings, you can never be sure if any of it happened at all.
But Benson & Moorehead don’t stop there. At some point, you realize that the film you are watching is no longer in the hands of Levi and John. They appear as talking heads being interviewed by whoever else has taken control of the project but Something In The Dirt has been passed through several editors, directors, and producers before it ever reached you. Like a long-lost Orson Welles project, The film itself is an object, and that object has a story separate from Levi and John.
“it never gets old watching Benson & Moorehead explode their own movie [but] it can be a lot to wrap your head around…”
As a multi-layered unreliable narrative, Something In The Dirt is probably the closest us book nerds are ever going to come to seeing an adaptation of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. And while it never gets old watching Benson & Moorehead explode their own movie as the artifice of a deeper exploration into the nature of storytelling, it can be a lot to wrap your head around while falling down the rabbit hole of Levi and John‘s theories.
Fans of Under The Silver Laketoo will appreciate the unifying-theory madness fueling this laid-back sci-fi fire but be sure to bring your true-crime brain with you on this ride. There is a truth buried deep in the weeds of this sly experimental indie film but it’s a truth as elusive and hard to pin down as trying to prove that the closet in your apartment is haunted by ghosts from another dimension.
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead’s Something In The Dirt celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Be sure to follow all of our Sundance 2022 coverage HERE and let us know what you would do if thought you discovered a doorway to another dimensionover on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
Review: SOMETHING IN THE DIRT (2022)
As a multi-layered unreliable narrative, Something In The Dirt is probably the closest us book nerds are ever going to come to seeing an adaptation of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. And while it never gets old watching Benson & Moorehead explode their own movie as the artifice of a deeper exploration into the nature of storytelling, it can be a lot to wrap your head around while falling down the rabbit hole of Levi and John's theories.
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