SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead offer what might be their brainiest, most intimate film yet with Something in the Dirt. The two, continuing their hot streak, pretty much did everything on the production, including co-directing, staring, and editing with Benson as screenwriter and Moorhead as cinematographer. The science-fiction horror production is raw, indie filmmaking that looks like a million bucks thanks to the talent and resourcefulness of its creators. This is the definition of getting out there and making a movie, damn the circumstances, and I love them all the more for it.
Levi (Justin Benson) wakes up in a no-lease apartment in Laurel Canyon, with plans to trim up his affairs before leaving Los Angeles. Following the smell of cigarette smoke, he heads down the dingy “courtyard” below to find his new neighbor, John (Aaron Moorhead), who offers him a cigarette. Levi grabs a random crystal knick-knack from his empty apartment to use as an ashtray, and the two hit it off. When John returns the makeshift tray to Levi, he sets it on a windowsill where it catches the setting sun JUST so. A prismatic glow fills the dingy living room, and it begins to float when John and Levi stand in very specific spots in the room. And now, we have just entered Benson-Moorehead territory.
“…spot hidden clues all over the city that indicate past secret societies have been onto something…”
Immediately the two think to capitalize on the phenomena and attempt to film it whenever it happens. Levi and John also attempt to scientifically solve what might be happening. The two begin observing the webs of wires coursing with electricity throughout their complex and all of Los Angeles. They spot hidden clues all over the city that indicate past secret societies have been onto something all along. One of the characters jokes that they are beginning to sound like a Dan Brown novel, yet Levi and John continue. Then we learn, through cutaway interviews, that things eventually will go very badly.
Something in the Dirt is truly one of the more accomplished pictures the duo has done. Benson’s densely written script is so rich in mythology and detail that I honestly wonder how he got any sleep. He crafts the narrative from the confused standpoint of the protagonists while intercutting faux-documentary conventions to foreshadow things to come. This is easily one of the most original sci-fi movies in years. Think Primer, but with a little bit more money. I should also mention the masterful direction that Benson and Moorhead share on this project. They keep the story grounded and very intimate while doing everything to sell it on an epic level.
The joy of most films is in the discovery, so I won’t go any further into detail. Suffice it to say that Benson and Moorhead have crafted yet another lo-fi sci-fi masterpiece. Something in the Dirt is for movie buffs who prefer challenging concepts and good dialogue over-exhausted franchises and muddy CGI. This might not be everyone’s idea of science fiction or horror, but give it a try, you might dig it.
Something in the Dirt screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…one of the most original sci-fi movies in years."