Another gem of a picture from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Something in the Dirt, is possibly their biggest triumph. A film that fans of the duo will wholeheartedly adore. With it also becoming a wonderful jumping-in point for new audiences. Benson and Moorhead have firmly cemented themselves as the filmmakers to watch with this remarkably absorbing film. One that never lets your mind settle.
When neighbours John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realize that documenting the paranormal could inject fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city and each other.
One thing that is certain about Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, they are never going to play it safe with their films. Something in the Dirt continues its quite remarkable run of delivering thought-provoking pieces that grab you while also opening up their possibilities as filmmakers. Made basically as a DIY pandemic project, they have been able to use their strongest assets as storytellers and add to it, seeing a clear limitation and exploiting it to make a truly marvellous film.
For those that have seen the duo’s work, you will know one of their strengths is creating a connection between the characters and with the audience. We know people like John and Levi, lost souls who can bounce ideas freely (perhaps too freely) off something to create. So, what happens when two people, both different and similar at the same time, find each other in such a supernatural situation? They try to profit from it to help them escape the lives that the cards have dealt them.
As said, Benson and Moorhead have always had a leaning in their films to connection. Whether that is long-term friendship or a brotherly bond, they have managed to create magic with that concept. Here they focus on two easily obsessed and odd people and sprinkle a bit of their sci-fi dusting onto them to ignite an intricate piece of people trying to find their purpose.
Story-wise, the freeing up of their limitations has allowed for Something in the Dirt to be their most complex and interesting film to date. Without the ability or budget to go with as much special effects, they appear to have pushed themselves in other ways. This is a story that could have been told linearly, and it would have been fine. However, that is different from the still of our filmmakers here. Instead, we get a film with moments that really happen to John and Levi, interspersed with the re-enactments they created, talking head segments with their crew and even cutaways of stock and archival footage.
To the point that we are watching a making-of documentary about the making of John and Levi’s own documentary. In the lure of John and Levi wanting to make a documentary, the entire film opens in impossibly impressive ways. Reality is blended with fiction to the point that not only are we sure that our characters are lost in their own delusions, but we are also certain that their increasing madness is leading them both towards the edge of the proverbial cliff. While Something in the Dirt doesn’t have that emotional pull that their previous films did, it still packs an obsession-inducing punch.
The closest thing you could compare Something in the Dirt to is the wonderful 2004 film Primer, but they refuse to explain themselves and are simply content with dragging us along for the terrific bewildering ride. However, in a year that brought us obscenely creative films like Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, and Incredible But True, Something in the Dirt may very well be at the top.
Something in the Dirt will be in UK Cinemas from the 4th of November and on Digital Download + Blu-ray from the 5th of December.
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