Directors are known for jumping from one genre to another to give their viewers some variety and to exercise how much flexibility they have. Ridley Scott has gone from sci-fi to historical epics to conspiracy thrillers. Ang Lee has covered fantasy to drama to high-octane action. Edgar Wright has explored everything that exists between horror, comedy, and action. The one and only Martin Scorsese has done musicals, sports, comedy, religious epics, psychological horror, and yes, crime thrillers. It’s no big deal for Steven Spielberg to jump from thrillers to fantasy, science fiction, period dramas, war, comedy dramas, all CGI action adventures, and even musicals. And then there’s Takashi Miike who has traversed every genre imaginable over the course of 100+ films. But that’s not a rule set in stone and directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are proof of that.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead started off their career with a short film called A.M. (2010). They followed that up with Resolution (2012), Spring (2014), and The Endless (2017), all three of which had their respective premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival. Between Resolution and Spring, they made a horror short for V/H/S: Viral (2014). They brought in A-listers Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan for Synchronic (2019), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. They went on to produce After Midnight (2019) and She Dies Tomorrow (2020). They directed some of the episodes in The Twilight Zone (2019-2020), Archive 81 (2022), and Moon Knight (2022). Now, they are here with yet another theatrical release, i.e. Something in the Dirt (2022). And their future looks brighter than ever because the duo is directing the majority of the episodes of the highly anticipated Marvel TV series, Loki (2021-ongoing). But, for today, let’s just talk about their feature films and how they stack up in terms of quality.

Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers for all of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s movies.

5. Synchronic (2019)

Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson Movies - Synchronic

Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are two paramedics who work together as paramedics in New Orleans, Louisiana. Steve is single and a ladies’ man, and Dennis is married to Tara (Katie Aselton) and is the father of two kids. They bear witness to a series of cases where people are dead or in a state of total mental breakdown after using a designer drug called Synchronic. Initially, Steve and Dennis don’t make too much of it and treat them like run-of-the-mill drug overdose incidents. But when Dennis’s daughter, Brianna (Ally Ioannides), goes missing after using Synchronic, things get serious. While Dennis takes a regular route to look for Brianna, Steve goes after everyone who’s selling the drug. It’s during this search that Steve comes across Dr. Kermani (Ramiz Monsef) who reveals that the drug lets its user travel through time. And while adults appear in the alternate time period as ghosts, teenagers can physically transport them to a certain era.

Benson and Moorhead spend a large chunk of its runtime establishing the ground rules of their universe’s version of time travel. And, yes, all five of their feature films apparently exist in a singular universe because they connect to each other in weird and interesting ways. So, you see Steve understands that if you stand at a certain place and ingest the drug, you’ll be transported to a different time period in the past in that same geographical location for seven whole minutes. If you don’t make it back to that particular spot, you’ll be stuck in that period forever. Since Steve is suffering from a type of glioblastoma, he is eager to risk it all and reunite Brianna (who is stuck in a different time period) with her family. The scope of the film is immense. The nonlinear style of storytelling is a head spinner. But in this process, Benson and Moorhead fail to cement the emotional bond between Dennis, Steve, and Brianna. The dreary pacing doesn’t really help as well. So, by the time the film wraps up, you are left with a sense of appreciation for the take on the concept of time travel and a feeling of disappointment regarding everything else.

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4. Something in the Dirt (2022)

Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson Movies - Something in the Dirt

Levi (Benson) is a loner who does odd jobs as a part of his community service. He has moved into a no-lease apartment in the Hollywood Hills and is planning to leave Los Angeles soon. He befriends his new neighbor John (Moorhead), who helps him furnish his space and exchanges many stories about the City of Angels. But one day John notices something supernatural as a crystal rock (that the duo were using as an ashtray) starts to float and emit all kinds of colors. Initially, they are scared of it. However, given the popularity of sci-fi, and horror documentaries, Levi and John decide to record the whole phenomenon, sell it to an OTT platform like Netflix, and earn a bunch of money which will rid them of their woes. They hit a snag when they realize that it’s very tough to just document a bunch of weird phenomena and that they’ve to back it up with some lore. So, they dive deep into the history, geography, and mythology of L.A. and the symbolisms of everything coming out of the rock. And they end up with more questions than answers.

Conceived and shot during the COVID-19 lockdowns, Something in the Dirt serves as a portal into the paranoia and unending need for answers everyone was facing during that time. Seeing John and Levi depend on nothing but the internet and vague inscriptions on buildings and on the streets to figure out this unprecedented situation they are in is relatable. But when they pull the rug to show that basically everything we’ve been seeing in the movie is actually a dramatization of the “real events” that John and Levi have faced, the commentary branches out in different directions. It speaks to the manipulative nature of documentaries. It casts doubt on the authenticity of John, and whether he has killed Levi because of his aversion towards him and is crafting a whole documentary to pin the blame on something supernatural. And it illustrates how the city of Los Angeles can feel like the center of everything glamorous in the world. However, there’s a darkness to it that can consume anyone who isn’t too careful. The film does become a little too repetitive with its conversations about conspiracy theories and hence forgets to develop its two central characters. Still, it’s worth a watch.

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3. Resolution (2012)

Michael (Peter Cilella) receives a pretty disturbing video of his old friend Chris (Vinny Curran) losing his mind with a loaded gun in his hand. Knowing that he’s a drug addict and probably in need of help, Michael follows the map that came with the video and heads to the solitary house where Chris is holed up in. Initially, Michael tries to reason with him and requests him to go into rehab. When that doesn’t work, Michael cuffs Daniel to one of the pipes in the house so that he can detox there for seven days and then go to rehab. The stay isn’t a peaceful one as they are harassed and intimidated by Chris’s “friends” who want drugs from him, as well as Native Americans who are in charge of the area the house stands on. And while Michael and Chris manage to appease them, they are overwhelmed by the idea that something supernatural is monitoring them and predicting their hopeless future in real-time.

A haunting in a solitary cabin is a story as old as time, and probably epitomized by the one and only Sam Raimi. But Benson and Moorhead’s take on this trope feels original because they take their time to unpack all the real dangers in front of them before getting into the narrative’s otherworldly aspects. In doing so, you truly begin to root for them because you are convinced that these two can not only ward off druggies and angry landlords but drug addiction as well. That’s why when the “monster” arrives, and the realization sets in that it’s something that cannot be overcome by their combined physical and intellectual might, the tragedy of the movie hits you like a truck. Continuing with The Evil Dead (1981) comparisons, Benson and Moorhead’s directorial debut is certainly on par with that of Raimi’s. Maybe it’s something about solitary cabins and the horror genre that brings the best out of directors. Also, the drug addiction subplot feels awfully similar to that of the drug addiction subplot in Evil Dead (2013), a movie that was released after Resolution. So, did Benson and Moorhead provide the blueprint for Fede Álvarez’s film? You decide.

2. The Endless (2017)

Brothers Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) receive a video from Camp Arcadia, a group they used to associate with as kids. While Aaron calls it a “harmless and friendly commune”, Justin states that it is a UFO death cult. But they are forced to put their differences aside and analyze the contents of the cassette where Aaron’s love interest, Anna (Callie Hernandez), can be seen talking about some kind of ascension. Justin thinks it’s a call for a mass suicide that has happened or is about to happen. However, Justin thinks that things aren’t that serious and that the existence of the tape proves that everyone at Camp Arcadia is alive and well. Still, curiosity gets the better of them and they partake in a road trip all the way to the backwoods of San Diego. Things start to seem off as soon as they meet the camp’s members, who haven’t aged a day in the past decade. Then they notice a guy pacing up and down the road. And, despite the members’ “open-hearted” nature, they spot a cabin with a massive lock on it in the premises.

The Endless is definitely one of the best time-loop movies of all time. Just like Benson and Moorhead’s previous takes on tropes that exist in the sci-fi genre, their approach is quite unique. Usually, time-loops occur in a very limited space, thereby reducing the scope of the film. However (as suggested by the title), not only is everyone stuck in endless time loops (hence the lack of aging), but there’s seemingly no end to the reach of these time loops. In a harrowing scene, we actually get to see the multiple invisible domes strewn all over the landscape and being monitored by an invisible entity. And that takes the already mounting sense of tension in the film to the next level. The Endless is a pretty direct sequel to Resolution not just in terms of callbacks and recurring characters, but the bond between the two central characters forming the beating heart of the film. Benson and Moorhead manage to evoke that same balance between nihilism and the urge to survive in the hopes that there’s something positive waiting for them beyond the horizon. So, yes, if you are a fan of films on cults and films of time loops, this is a must-watch.

1. Spring (2014)

Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson Movies - Spring

Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is going through a rough phase. He has lost his mother to cancer. While drinking away his sorrows at the bar he works in, he gets into a fight with a customer and is subsequently fired. The police are searching for him because the customer is pressing charges against him. So, with no other option left, Evan goes away to Italy to press restart his life. There he meets a couple of Brits who happily take him around the country. They egg him on to flirt with a girl named Louise (Nadia Hilker). And as soon as Louise shows some interest in him, Evan suspects she is a prostitute and drives her away. While the Brits skip town, Evan hangs back and takes shelter in a farm, and starts working for its owner. Because of that decision, he gets to meet Louise again and they hit it off almost instantly. However, while Evan sleeps peacefully, we get to see the monster that Louise actually is.

If you go into Spring without watching the trailer, the synopsis, or even the slightest detail about the plot, you are going to get the shock of a lifetime by that aforementioned reveal. It genuinely comes out of nowhere and turns this apparent story about self-discovery into something else entirely. Yes, on a metaphorical level, Benson and Moorhead still make Evan’s journey all about healing and becoming a better and more loving person. But on a literal level, it’s a monster movie, featuring some of the best visual effects and special effects your eyes have ever seen. By the time the film gets into its third act, you might be under the impression that you’ve encountered everything the film has to offer. That’s when Benson and Moorhead uncover the puke-inducing creature design, thereby surprising you yet again. Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker’s acting is truly spectacular. They perform an unbroken, exposition-heavy, conversation sequence while traveling through the maze-like streets of southern Italy that’s around four minutes and nineteen seconds long. And it’s amazing. In addition to all that, Spring is so romantic that it’ll make Guillermo del Toro proud (you know, since he’s a fan of romances set in the horror genre).

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