If you were at all worried that working for Marvel might have dragged low-fi weirdmeisters Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead kicking and screaming into the mainstream, Something In The Dirt is here to swiftly disabuse you of that notion. Following this year’s stint behind the camera for Moon Knight, the maxi-hyphenate duo (they star, direct, produce and edit, Moorhead serves here as DP, while Benson wrote the script and provided his apartment as the central location) have happily bounced back to their indie roots with another shoestring sci-fi chamber piece to add to an already impressive collection.
Feckless barman Levi (Benson) and apocalyptic evangelical John (Moorhead) become unlikely documentarians when a levitating ashtray hints that something might not be right in the former’s recently rented apartment. Deciding their floundering fortunes might be swiftly turned around by confirming the existence of the paranormal (“How much do you think Netflix pays for one of these?”), they set up a few cameras and determine to prove that the truth is out there.
Both a twisted commentary on the creative process and equal parts a celebration of such.
For those familiar with Benson and Moorhead’s particular brand of sci-fi noodle-baker, it will come as no surprise that Something In The Dirt is far more than a bargain basement ghost hunt. Like their twisted debut, Resolution, and time-twisting pseudo-sequel The Endless, this trippy concoction sends us hurtling down a slippery slide comprising explorations of gravity and electromagnetism, portentous tattoos, ruminations on fatalism and the human condition, and a DIY radiation suit fashioned from a shower curtain.
The weirdometer gradually dials up as the story progresses, sporadically floating furniture giving way to an interdimensional succulent, a cult based on triangles, and a cupboard with a penchant for Beethoven. As events spin increasingly out of control, the film steadily unpicks the tenuous threads of John and Levi’s relationship, archly probing the cracks in their attempt at collaborative filmmaking (the documentary-within-a-film pulling that curtain back even further), while gleefully poking holes in America’s disturbing love-affair with wingnut conspiracy theories.
‘This film is dedicated to making movies with your friends’ reads the credits dedication, and Something In The Dirt is precisely that: both a twisted commentary on the creative process and equal parts a celebration of such. After hitting the big time with the MCU (the pair are also on deck to direct Loki Season 2) and drafting some A-list talent for 2019’s time-spinning Synchronic, it’s heartening to see Benson and Moorhead haven’t abandoned their freewheeling indie roots, instead rebounding with their most unapologetically batshit flight of fancy yet. Sure, it’s a little longer than it needs to be, and the latter half is occasionally overburdened by the sheer weight of its own ideas, but if you’re in the mood for an audacious, ambiguous head-trip wrapped in musings about the human condition, you’ll find all that and more hiding inside a flying quartz ashtray.