There’s little doubt that writing/directing/acting team Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson love to travel inside the shadowy world of the unknown, and often in mind-bending fashion that transcends a simple story yet takes you beyond the beyond of your expectations. I was a fan of their previous work The Endless and Synchronic, plus they offered up some fine Moon Knight episodes – which fit into their ‘style’ perfectly – and they’re back with Marvel for some second season Loki.
Like their preceding films, bang in the centre of Something in the Dirt is two characters, Levi (Justin Benson) and John (Aaron Moorhead), who witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment not long after meeting and soon realise that instead of running from it, they try to document the paranormal happenings, which will hopefully give just them some fame and fortune into their otherwise less-successful lives.
In the opening scene, Levi (Benson) wakes up on the floor in his otherwise empty apartment, he’s got a Cobain-esque look (which gave me a little Something in the Way vibes), but there’s not much more to give us an idea of where we are. Picking up a crystal-like object from the flat to use as an ashtray, we notice a small side room and maths equations on the door frame, before he heads outside to meet neighbour John (Moorhead).
From here, we learn this is their first meeting and Levi’s flat is empty because he’s packed up and is leaving town soon. We also see John with a bloodstain on his shirt, which turns out to be from a photoshoot he was involved in, but there’s also a few visual suggestions/clues over a possible wider story, like planes flying a little too low, and a fire and helicopters on the hill behind their location but is it significant? That’d be for you to find out.
Even in the early scenes with the pair, it’s interesting that although they seem like loners in different ways, and they connect quite quickly, you don’t really know who they are behind what we’re told, and the stories they share. You forget they’re strangers but when they’re both back in Levi’s flat and the first supernatural ‘phenomena’ happens, that crucial part is pushed aside because you’re intrigued by the story as much as the characters.
But then the first of a few twists and turns puts your understanding into question, as it cuts to a documentary-style interview. Cosmic puzzles are suggested, and other things we haven’t seen or learned about are indicated, despite back stories built to people we think we comprehend. So, while the overriding story is surrounding their discovery of something supernatural, marked with mathematics, conspiracies and facts about an old LA, it’s also a tale of who to trust.
Like the other creations from the filmmakers, Something in the Dirt can’t be discussed too much in detail here because it’s an experience. One that drags you into the mystery, and is bizarre enough to draw concern, but oddly captivating to. Is this a story within a story within a film? Are we being manipulated? What are the true roles of John and Levi? The obstacles build up, the story gathers pace like an electromagnetic wave with bright lights, doors that won’t shut, unerring scratches and unusual fruits to bear.
The use of sound also plays a huge part, combined with the score, entwining inside the story to make every aspect important. I was a fan of knocking Dan Brown ‘theories’, and also how the film continues the deconstruction of the world ending, reminding me of the original Donnie Darko cut and endeavouring to continue that discussion that Noah Wyle’s Prof Monnitoff cannot have, and so bringing those fantastically ‘big life’ questions to the forefront. Oh, plus there’s a little nod to Arcadia = if you know, you know.
I always think that the duo’s films are good with a beer or two, as you meld and mould into their little world. You’ll be cognitively intoxicated by the ever-turning mobius strip of a script and taken in by the almost normal characters mixed up in some strange situation – but a welcome one. Benson and Moorhead are both credible lead characters, you feel in limbo whether you’re part of a lie or hunting for the truth, and I don’t know how they put it together but it’s magical, it’s bizarre, it’s creepy and invigorating.