Posted in Diablo Joe Reviews by Neal at 19:12, Nov 24 2022
"Something in the Dirt"
review by Diablo Joe
"Something in the Dirt"
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are one of the more unique creative teams in indie genre filmmaking. Hewing to micro-budgets, aided by a team of familiar and talented friends, they are men of many hats. Co-directing, often both starring in and always assuming a myriad of production duties, with Benson writing and Moorhead photographing, the two have created a body of work that explores themes of reality, consciousness, and cosmic fatality. Their best film, “The Endless,” was widely acclaimed and was followed by their most mainstream film to date, “Synchronic.” That latter film featured name actors, a larger budget, and much more extensive production values but lacked some of the magic that made their smaller films shine.
“Something in the Dirt” appears to be a return to their micro-budget, DIY ethos. Levi (Benson), a prototypical Southern California beach bum, moves into a new apartment and meets neighbor John, a man with a myriad of more intellectual interests from photography to mathematics, but equally somewhat socially adrift. When the pair begin to observe unusual phenomena in Levi’s apartment, they begin to document it, hoping it will bring them fame, fortune, and more. But the deeper the two get into their esoteric project, the more paranoid and conspiracy-laden their world becomes.
Benson and Moorhead’s movie is part traditional narrative, part found footage film, and part quasi-“This is Celestial Tap” mockumentary. It jumps between conventional narrative scenes of Levi and John to snippets of the observational footage of their studies. Interspersed are flashes of recollections from their pasts (apparently actual home movies and photos from the filmmaker’s childhoods) and opinion interviews with various experts and third parties. But Levi and John are repeatedly proven unreliable narrators, and both men have pasts that they do not readily reveal. When the movie exposes that the pair have also been recreating many of their experiences, we further doubt anything the film has shown us.
In the vein of Lovecraft, Benson and Moorhead have created a shared universe through which their work drifts. John’s oft-mentioned church is undoubtedly tied to the cult in “The Endless,” and the strange plant in Levi’s place echoes the ones mentioned in both that film and in “Synchronic.” The movie is rife with such details. The result is a complex and often staggeringly assaultive sluice of philosophies, references, crackpot concepts, and even an absurd foray into literal tin foil hat territory. In an example of classic conspiracy paranoia, everything from quartz harmonics, the theory of gravity, aliens, the Pythagorean Society, psychedelics, JPL genius/Thelemic occult nutjob Jack Parsons, heavy metal poisoning, and even Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” become part of the men’s ever-widening equation. It’s a kitchen sink of elements that proves both disturbing and, overall, a bit numbing.
“Dirt” clocks in at just under two hours. And given that so much of the picture is Levi and John concocting postulations for all the phenomena they have or haven’t been experiencing, Benson and Moorhead’s film can sometimes become a bit of a slog. Had the film been trimmed a bit (and there are plenty of potential places), viewers would find the journey through the story a bit easier, if not to navigate, then digest. Those who stick with all the mental mayhem imparted by “Something in the Dirt” will find the possibilities suggested by the film’s conclusion prove to be the most unsettling of anything the filmmakers present to us.
While far from the best film in the pair’s canon of work, “Something in the Dirt” shows that Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead haven’t stopped challenging themselves and their audiences. But the duo needs to consider meting out their ideas with perhaps a bit more restraint, lest they drown their audience in their character’s philosophical indulgences.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Something in the Dirt” 3 out of 5 imps.