Something in the Dirt is the most Benson and Moorhead movie to have ever come from the writing/directing/acting duo of Benson and Moorhead. They’ve already brought us movies about death cults and time loops (The Endless), time-travelling drugs (Synchronic) and now they’re back with a movie about aliens, ghosts, unreliable narrators and triangle-obsessed cults.
Something in the Dirt is the story of Levi (Benson), who has just moved into the cheapest, most run down apartment he could find in a not-particularly-glamourous part of Los Angeles which may or may not have been some kind of maths-related crime scene. Along for the ride is his neighbour John (Moorhead), and the bizarre shared experiences that seem to be centred around Levi’s apartment. Specifically, both his closet, and a misshapen glass ashtray that may or may not be possessed by the aforementioned aliens. Or ghosts.
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With phenomena including strange light shows from the ashtray, gravity deciding to do whatever the hell it likes at any given moment, and plants that shouldn’t be able to grow fruit suddenly growing fruit, the pair decide that they need to try and investigate and document this. Not just for science, but also so they can maybe sell it to a public eager for all manner of pseudo-scientific nonsense in a post-Trump America where reality is what you say it is.
Their investigation sends the pair off down an increasingly complex rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, wild hypotheses and strange coincidences as they try to assert some kind of meaning or symbolism to what they’re experiencing. Their ideas range from the mystical to the religious and the otherworldly. The deeper they delve, the more strain is put on them both, and on their new friendship. After all, how well do they really know each other and the secrets and emotional baggage each man carries, and how honest are they truly being with each other?
Morphing into a pseudo-documentary within a movie, Something in the Dirt features cutaway scenes featuring the two budding documentary makers and the crew of people brought in to help with the production where they discuss both on-screen events and activities behind the scenes. It becomes clear fairly early on that this little project didn’t go according to plan, and that some of the things we’re being shown may or may not have even occurred, with re-enactments and visual effects taking the place of “lost” footage. The whole thing ends up feeling like a student or amateur project, with deliberately clunky camerawork, unreliable equipment and awkward performances from the leads in this grimy, run down little apartment. It’s a far cry from the open spaces of The Endless or the New Orleans sprawl of Synchronic.
Benson and Moorhead again disappear into their characters. Levi comes across as a directionless man-child, a drifter without any real purpose while John is both more composed, but also more tightly wound, by turns tolerant and patronising of his more innocent companion. The deeper their investigation goes, the more their personalities begin to grate on each until events culminate in a way that leaves more questions than answers.
Soundtrack duties here are again taken up by Jimmy LaValle, working under the name The Album Leaf and he’s been responsible for the scores for the duo’s last three films. It’s another lovely, ambient, unsettling soundtrack that’s going to be well-worth a listen when it hits the various streaming platforms.
Benson and Moorhead are adept at weaving stories that deal with all manner of existential scientific and horror-tinged concepts. We’ve had the Lovecraftian body horror of Spring, the grim temporal shenanigans of Synchronic and the extra-dimensional terror of The Endless. Something in the Dirt, while less overtly horrible or horrific than the others, is a more thoughtful affair that poses many questions that it then steadfastly refuses to answer. It’s a confusing and, perhaps, ultimately a not entirely satisfying journey, but it’s still one worth taking.
Something In The Dirt is out in Cinemas from 4th November and on Digital Download and Blu-ray from 5th December.