The Movie Waffler Sundance 2022 Review - SOMETHING IN THE DIRT | The Movie Waffler

Sundance 2022 Review - SOMETHING IN THE DIRT

Something in the Dirt review
Two neighbours discover a strange phenomenon in their apartment complex.

Review by Ren Zelen

Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been making low-budget features for a decade. From their first feature Resolution to the unique romance of Spring to the time-bending The Endless and their bigger-budget Synchronic, they’ve never failed to challenge, intrigue, entertain and amuse.

Something in the Dirt, their fifth feature, feels like their most intimate film. Covid restrictions have made it rather a home-grown effort, Benson and Moorhead getting back to basics, directing, writing, producing, editing and starring. The film was shot with a skeleton crew, some segments captured with only Benson, Moorhead, and frequent collaborator David Lawson Jr. on set.

The resultant film seems close to a black comedy, satirizing our pandemic-era aimlessness and the conspiracy fantasies and QAnon paranoia it has engendered. The uncertainty, unpredictability, and anxiety that the pandemic has produced in the benighted parts of the population has led to an explosion of superstition, gullibility, and the need for look for answers in the most unlikely or ridiculous of places.

Benson and Moorhead set their story in a small, dilapidated, half-empty apartment block in a corner of contemporary L.A. The place feels grim, claustrophobic, pre-apocalyptic. Choppers constantly fly overhead, fires burn on the mountainside between the roof tops, electricity hums endlessly in meters and gauges, smoke rises in the sky.

Something in the Dirt review

When new resident Levi Danube (Benson) comes across neighbour John Davies (Moorhead) relaxing in the tiny, dingy courtyard, they converse politely for several minutes before either man acknowledges what looks like a large bloodstain on Levi’s shirt. John shrugs, "L.A. is just like Halloween… just like, all of the time."

John informs Levi that the apartment he’s moved into has been empty for a decade. Levi admits that he has no furniture, which prompts John to offer to lend him some items left over by his ex.


While they move furniture into the empty apartment Levi admits he has a casual job as a bartender and has failed at all of the many money-making ventures he has tried in his life. He has no plans, except to perhaps move on from L.A, where he might shake off the bad luck he thinks he’s been having.

John confides that he was abandoned by his gay lover and now earns a meagre living by charging electric scooters, mostly because he’s donated all his savings to the odd Evangelical church of which he’s a member.

Something in the Dirt review

Both these characters are living hand to mouth on the fringes of society. They drift through life making few real connections, but they listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of Reddit and TED Talks. Levi takes "energy supplements" he buys on the internet; John has a copy of 'Atlas Shrugged' and other eccentric books on his bookshelf.

When they observe a pulsating light coming from Levi’s closet and a quartz crystal ashtray begins levitating on its own, we might wonder if it’s just a hallucination brought on by something more potent than nicotine in the cigarettes they both chain smoke, but the phenomenon keeps happening.

Their first thought when they witness this strange, seemingly supernatural event, is how they can monetize it. The most likely way is to invest in cameras and make a documentary which they can sell to various outlets, maybe even Netflix?


This is an opportunity to finally validate their existence and make some real money. However, their ineptitude and tendency to fly off on wild tangents begin to hamper their endeavours. Levi and John find a mutual connection in their shared susceptibility to conspiracy theories, wild ideas about numerology, symbology, mass simulations, and mind control.

In trying to pin down the phenomenon they’re witnessing they consider charged energy fields, geometric magnetism, ancient aliens, a Pythagorean Cult tied to a shape they see all over L.A. and a city architect with an occult purpose in his design of Los Angeles itself.

As their theories become more outlandish and incoherent, their camaraderie and their mutual goal begins to break down. Tied together in creating their much-edited, semi-recreated documentary, this odd couple seem fated to mess up yet another opportunity. Their arguments persist even while the phenomenon continues to manifest around them, so distracted are they by their personal sniping they have even ceased to notice the miracle in their midst.

Something in the Dirt review

Something in the Dirt tells its story partly within a documentary format. Benson and Moorhead mix in real footage with their narrative along with stock footage clips to illustrate some of their points. Eventually, the line between what is actual and what is fictional, or a reenactment becomes blurred. It turns out to be a good way of underlining the way the public now consumes its media and how willingly people will believe what they think they see, never checking whether they are actually being fed facts or fictions. We are living in scary times when fake news is so readily accepted and images are so easily faked.

Benson and Moorhead have a reputation for making unique films on shoe-string budgets and being extremely hands-on with their work. Both were involved in the editing; Moorhead took responsibility for the cinematography and Benson wrote the script. Their longtime friendship helps make their acting performances come across as very natural; there is instant rapport, so much so that at times the dialogue feels improvised.

Hopes are high for their next project - they are slated to be contributing to the Moon Knight series, and I for one will be looking forward to what intriguing and challenging topic will inspire their next feature.

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