Filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been delighting sci-fi and horror connoisseurs with offbeat indie projects like Spring, The Endless and Synchronic for over a decade. Her latest, the spooky and funny Something in the Dirt, is perhaps the purest expression of her aesthetic yet. Conceived and shot during the pandemic — in just a few locations, with a small cast led by Benson and Moorhead himself — the film at times feels like an impromptu journey through the duo’s personal obsessions.
“Something in the Dirt” just starts. Benson plays Levi, a burnt-out LA bartender who moves into his last apartment in town before moving away: a run-down apartment where the doors don’t quite close and inexplicable noises abound. Upon arriving, Levi meets his neighbor John (Moorhead), a struggling photographer trying to overcome a recent breakup by clinging to his apocalyptic religion. When these two witness an actual supernatural phenomenon – in the form of a floating ashtray – they do what any longtime Angelenos would do. They grab their cameras and start making a documentary that they hope to sell to Netflix… and solve all their problems.
Portions of Something in the Dirt take the form of this documentary, with after-the-fact confessions that suggest Levi and John made some questionable ethical decisions during filming — and that something went horribly wrong in the process. For the most part, the story follows these two guys as they make the film, and have amusing, prickly, creative disagreements as they gradually get to know each other better. Everyone has secrets that are deftly revealed to the audience in the middle of the action, as the amateur filmmakers react to the oddities piling up around them.
And when their conversations don’t suddenly get uncomfortably personal, they’re filled with wild and entertaining speculation about the nature of what they actually found. These guys grew up on X-Files reruns and YouTube videos about the paranormal, which they combine with their accumulated knowledge of Southern California history to concoct plausible-sounding theories about why their apartment complex—and by extension, their hometown—is the way it is so strange and magical.
Benson and Moorhead can’t keep the laid-back hangout vibe of “Something in the Dirt” to the end. When they have to start breaking down their minimal plot – by explaining what happened to these guys and offering more solid explanations for all the weird noises and floating things – the film comes down to earth a bit. But for the first 90 or so minutes, this film has a remarkable vibrancy and spontaneity as its creators and stars seem to be making up their story on the spot while the cameras are rolling. You seem inspired and enthusiastic. The mood is contagious.
“Something in the Dirt”
Rated: R, for speech and a short violent image
Duration: 1 hour 55 minutes
To play: Begins November 4, AMC The Americana at Brand 18, Glendale; AMC Burbank Downtown 6; Universal Cinemas AMC at Citywalk, Universal City; AMC Sunset 5, West Hollywood; AMCO Orange 30
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-11-03/review-something-in-the-dirt-justin-benson-aaron-moorhead ‘Something in the Dirt’ review: A spooky and funny indie