REVIEW: Something in the Dirt (2022)

I have always rather liked the Hollywood term ‘multi-hyphenate’. Usually used by journalists for Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, it refers to those particularly talented types who undertake more than two roles in a film production. Not just an actor-director, or director-producer, it saves space when describing an actor-writer-director, or writer-director-producer. It is of particularly use when describing Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. They maintain one of the most interesting and effective creative partnerships in American cinema, thanks to a near-faultless run of science fiction films including Spring (2014), The Endless (2017), and Synchronic (2019). Calling them multi-hyphenates certainly saves a lot of space. No one wants to have to start a review describing a pair of actor-writer-director-producer-editor-cinematographer-visual effects workers. It is likely because of the overwhelming control Moorhead and Benson exert on their individual films that each comes deeply infused with its own sense of aesthetic and storytelling. These are smart, intelligently-told thrillers, constructed on limited budgets and driven by tremendous ideas. Something in the Dirt, which was shot during the lockdowns of recent years, is their latest work. It is, predictably, superb. Levi (Benson) moves into a run-down Los Angeles apartment building, and meets his neighbour John (Moorhead). When they discover inexplicable phenomena occurring in Levi’s apartment – objects will float in the air, accompanied by a variety of lights, sounds, and ground tremors – they resolve to record the strange events and profit through a self-made documentary. As their investigation proceeds, their newfound friendship begins to fracture – and they learn more unwanted secrets about each other than the strange events going on in Levi’s apartment. Something for which Benson and Moorhead have a real gift in a sense of the uncanny: of something not just unknown but unknowable, puncturing the comparative banality of everyday life. In other films they have exploited it to unsettling effect. Here it is tinged with a wonderful sense of the absurd. Something in the Dirt may still continue their effective and threatening vibe, but it also feels much more actively comedic. Somewhere in the film there is a line between paranormal phenomena and mad science paranoia, and the characters cross back and forth across it from scene to scene. Sometimes it can make the characters feel quite ridiculous, but other times it goes as far as to feel threatening. It is not as if the film is a horror-comedy as audiences would typically understand it; it is more accurate to say the film is a science fiction film, a horror film, and a comedy, all running at the same time. It is honestly rare to find artists whose work hits so accurately every single time. It has reached a point where every Benson and Moorhead feature is automatically a must-see, without seeing so much as a poster or trailer. There will be books written about their films. Documentaries will be made. Research degrees will be granted based on the analysis of their work. Watching their work means watching a cinema legend getting made film by film.

One thought on “REVIEW: Something in the Dirt (2022)

  1. I’m very much in the (hopefully expanding) club that will see everything they make because it’s so goddamn different from everything else around it.

    That being said – I’m worried they’re in danger of being caught up in the MCU machine with directing the entirety of Loki Season 2. I think I’d be happier if they were also writing it.

    (Their directorial contribution to the recent Twilight Zone series is disappointing mainly due to the script trying to cram too much in at once.)

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