Movie Review: “Something in the Dirt” offers a handful of unanswerable questions and uncomfortable situations that beef up its indulgent runtime, but there’s not enough meat on the bone to care too much about Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s new movie. There are some great filmmaking techniques on display, but it gets lost in a confounding film.
“Something in the Dirt” is surely going to be a polarizing movie for anyone that seeks it out. It’s always asking more and more questions without resolving the previous ones. The film is co-starring and co-directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, who have developed a handful of projects together including “The Endless,” “Synchronic,” and the MCU’s “Moon Knight” series. Each of their endeavors asks highly conceptual and deeply philosophical questions to the audience without much resolve.
Their newest work “Something in the Dirt” is not much different. When Levi (Benson) moves in next door to John (Moorhead), the two begin to experience odd, supernatural occurrences. Much like anyone living in 2022, their best step forward is to film each instance and attempt to tape together a documentary to gain fame and fortune. Although the project starts as an innocent bonding exercise for the two new neighbors, their differing viewpoints on life begin to separate the two at the seam.
“Something in the Dirt” isn’t necessarily a messy film in itself, but my feelings on it are. This is the equivalent of listening to a mid-2010s high concept rap album but put together lacking the budget and wherewithal to make it coherent or offer anything worthwhile. It offers some visually stunning moments and ideas, but nothing concrete that pulls it all together by the end. The filmmaking techniques are particularly notable – I distinctly loved how “Something in the Dirt” rarely leaves the confines up the small apartment complex besides a few cutaway interviews reminiscent of a History Channel documentary. The movie’s style does occasionally offer its own substance and visual feast that makes seeing it worthy in itself.
But otherwise, “Something in the Dirt” mostly postures and maneuvers in its own footsteps for the near two hour runtime. Moorhead and Benson embrace pandemic filmmaking about as boldly and obviously as one can, for better and for worse. Again, while I found the claustrophobic setting quite effective, the movie also lacks the sharp script and teeth that many of its contemporaries also did while everyone was stuck at home.
To put it into a single word that describes the experience of consuming and attempting to understand “Something in the Dirt,” I would say – crazy. Not because the film itself is completely outlandish or wacky in the same way “Everything Everywhere All At Once” or “Nope” are (two movies that convey many of the same themes “Something in the Dirt” does, albeit with much bigger budgets), but because “Something in the Dirt” is still a feat considering the undertaking that these two talented filmmakers had in order to write, direct, edit, produce, and star in something like this. It’s a completely idiosyncratic worldview that could only be put together by a select set of individuals.
Which is what still makes me excited for what Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson may have cooking in the future. I’m slightly worried considering that “Moon Knight” lacked a similar forward direction that “Something in the Dirt” lacked, but there’s enough obvious talent between the two of them to make a movie that feels more timeless than anything they’ve done so far. It’s not an embarrassing swing-and-miss from them, but it’s not hard contact either. I look forward to checking out what they do in the future and I hope it’s slightly better than this.