In one of the most bizarre scenes of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Something in the Dirt”, we see Moorhead’s John unable to contain his excitement as he is cutting through a strange-looking fruit which he considers “Inter-dimensional”. As surprising as that may sound, it actually does feel “pretty normal” here as in the world of Benson and Moorhead, the terms “Supernatural” or “Science Fictional” are as easily accessible as buying a pack of cigarettes from your nearest store. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Over the past decade, Benson and Moorhead’s duo have managed to create a sci-fi/horror corner of their own which, unlike most grand-scale sci-fi, feels much more grounded and even relatable. The duo has branched out into large-scale projects as well in recent years, like directing episodes of the big-budget Netflix show “Archive 81” or MCU’s “Moon knight” but even in those, their signature style has been visible.
Their latest effort, “Something in the Dirt” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival is exactly what you would expect from them, a micro-budget science-fiction puzzle but this one is laced with a lot of dark humor which makes it a rather entertaining watch overall. Conceived during the time of the Covid-19 lockdown phase, it was shot in Benson’s own apartment with a crew that merely consisted of 12 odd people. Not to mention, Bension and Moorhead star as the leads as well making this their third acting effort together after Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017).
Something in the Dirt (2022): Plot summary and synopsis
On the verge of leaving town, Levi (Benson) moves into a cheap Los Angeles apartment where the door of a closet doesn’t close and one of the walls is filled with physical equations. At the courtyard downstairs he meets John (Moorhead), a wedding photographer who appears to be friendly enough (but there is something off about him).
Levi and John pretty much hit it off in their first encounter. The latter offers to help the former with some furniture to furnish the newly rented apartment. On the day of moving the furniture, they see Levi’s ashtray levitating in the air while a strange white light is emitting from it. After the initial freakouts, they engage in a conversation about making a documentary out of this strange phenomenon where the talk reaches the point where one of them starts to wonder how much “Netflix” is going to pay for it.
The mostly linear narrative is sometimes interrupted with footage which suggests the said “Documentary” was eventually made but possibly not in the way Levi and John would have liked.
After noticing a woman visiting Levi, John wanders on the internet a bit and eventually finds out that his partner is a registered sex offender. However, the concern is soon addressed when it is eventually revealed that Levi only got caught in an unfortunate situation to end up there; and that woman happens to be his parole officer.
As the crystal-made ashtray continues to do the thing that is “beyond logic”, Levi and John continue to move forward with their documentary where they keep trying to unravel the mystery behind the strange “light emitting” from the ashtray” phenomena. John keeps seeing a triangle-like symbol all over the city and his evangelical heart desperately wants to believe in some kind of bigger cosmic things being played by some higher power. A more skeptical Levi mocks John about quoting Dan Brown.
Theories after theories are churned out by the two of them which don’t really go anywhere. While a rather skeptical but level-headed Levy tries to find some perspective in everything, John, being a clear-cut narcissist suffering from a superiority complex, tries so hard to sell Levy (and maybe himself) his bizarre theories ranging from Pythagoras theorem to something called Jerusalem syndrome which is described as an acute psychotic state seen in pilgrims visiting Jerusalem.
Something in the Dirt (2022) Ending, Explained
After randomly discovering a connection between the number 1908 and a bunch of reel-to-reels audio tape recorders stashed under the building, the duo land on a Morse code. Upon decoding the code, they reach a beach that may or may not have all the answers. While Levi seems excited and enthusiastic enough, John appears to be pretty much nonchalant which clearly indicates that following any theory that is not his brainchild is not something he would like to do.
Levi also keeps wondering if whatever they’re doing is dangerous and if they should just stop. After having a huge fallout with John, he finally decides that he had enough of it and plans to leave. But as unfortunate as it sounds, a catastrophic event happens at their apartment which literally beats gravity and Levi literally floats away deep in the sky and (most likely) dies.
John appears to be sad but also exploits his partner’s death while doing the documentary with other people, implying the fact that he was never a good person after all.
What was really going on?
This should be the obvious question the audience is going to have while watching it as this movie feels like a huge scientific discussion/argument about complicated theories and miraculous phenomena but what was really going on was never really explained, which only implies that wasn’t the important thing either. The excessive amount of darkly comic elements also established that further.
So what was the meaning of it?
What the movie truly shows is America’s obsession with strange phenomena without much scientific awareness. In fact, by making John’s character an ignorant know-it-all the movie serves as a critic of that very thing. On the other hand, Levi’s arc perfectly mirrors a vulnerable unfortunate man getting soaked in a really troubling situation and ultimately fading away, thanks to a really selfish person.
Something in the Dirt (2022): Movie Review
While most of Benson and Moorhead’s works tend to take the content seriously enough to deal with things from a logical, explanatory perspective; Something in the Dirt seems to take a different route. Even though it comes off as this deep, meaningfully grounded, and to some extent self-indulgent sci-fi; in reality, it is a rather casual darkly comic tale of one “know-it-all” idiot and one really unfortunate person suffering thanks to the idiot.
Benson and Moorhead do a great job in the acting department as well. These are both of their best performances so far. Moorhead, as John, is particularly impressive as he manages to make you laugh at him and also be mad at him, all at the same time.
It is also good to see that despite grand-scale work opportunities, the duo still manage to make these movies. In fact, this movie proudly announces that it is made with friends suggesting that the duo genuinely had a great time while playing the screw-ups in an utterly disturbing situation.