The fifth film of directorial duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Something In The Dirt is a stellar science-fiction comedy as cryptic as it is enticing.
Exploring the murky depths of a paranormal occurrence in Los Angeles, the duo also star and create an uneasy, paranoid dynamic that consistently builds, well-paced, over the runtime.
Two Laurel Canyon neighbours, John (Moorhead), a gay, evangelical Christian, and Levi (Benson), a dishevelled, loner bartender, discover a levitating quartz crystal which they attempt to spotlight by filming a documentary. The film’s mockumentary element is an aspect that perhaps flies under the radar as the focus is less on the characters attempting to film the crystal than it is on the characters discussing their theories and the steady deterioration of their relationship.
The pair carefully craft a depiction of Los Angeles that has a deliberately vague soullessness to it, heightening the sense of intimacy created when the characters remain in their apartment. This is where the film truly shines. There’s a lingering threat throughout that is never cashed in on, the grounded and strange reality juxtaposed with an otherwise surrealist narrative. The film’s score places particular emphasis on this feeling as the magnitude of the paranormal events is revealed and John and Levi push these unknown possibilities to their limit. Benson and Moorhead’s resistance to revealing information creates unanswered enigmas as they instead choose to overload the plot with theory and speculation.
The film shares similarities with David Robert Mitchell’s, Under the Silver Lake, mainly through its depiction of Los Angeles and characters that are intent on discovering the truth behind discovered mysteries. Both films follow similar thematic conventions, though Something In The Dirt has a scrappiness that is simultaneously hard to look away from and also a showcase of some truly breathtaking shots that demonstrate the extent of the pair’s cinematic craft.
Benson and Moorhead’s cosmic creation will draw in audiences with its mind-bending antics, remarkable cinematography, and intriguing narrative that prioritises misdirection at every turn. Perpetually unsettling from the opening, the film is a captivating watch in which mystery reigns. On this evidence, there will certainly be a beguiled fan base itching to see what they create next.