The filmmaking duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have had one hell of a run over the past decade. After lending their creativity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the pair has returned to their indie roots and have just released their fifth feature film, Something in the Dirt. To try and pigeonhole this film into any one genre is nearly impossible. What starts out as a seemingly supernatural thriller morphs into a full-fledged character piece, while also ruminating on the topic of curiosity. As our world becomes increasingly inundated with information and misinformation, people look anywhere for something to help it all make sense. Curiosity is an essential quality to have in life, yet as recent times have unfortunately shown us, it can lead down some narrow, dark, and conspiratorial paths for the worse.
Levi, played by Benson, already has one foot out of Los Angeles. Still, he has a handful of things he must get done prior to his exodus. The first we see of him he is just waking up in an absolute wreck of an apartment. The ceiling is leaky, there is a closet door that refuses to shut, unnatural noises emanate from every direction, and a ton of junk is left over from previous tenants. It would seem the only somewhat decent features of this apartment complex is a mysterious crystal left behind and John, his downstairs neighbor played by Moorhead. The two meet over a shared cigarette and use the crystal as an ashtray. This bond with the crystal in the middle essentially feels akin to signing a blood pact, as the two begin noticing increasingly strange and inexplicable behavior from not only the crystal, but Levi’s entire apartment. What begins as a ghost story quickly spirals into something much larger and far more interesting. Deeply indicative of society as a whole, Something in the Dirt quantifies why people find it essential to search for meaning in every facet of their lives.
Depending on who you ask, the unknown can represent one of two things: excitement or fear. With either of those responses comes a sense of needing to know more. If you find yourself becoming engrossed in any topic or situation, a curious mind will do some research to familiarize themselves. On the other hand, encountering something unsettling or frightening may lead to research in hopes of rationally explaining what is occurring. The latter situation feels oddly reminiscent of constantly going to WebMD, only to discover the worst of news for something as minor as an allergy flare-up. To want to be informed is by no means a bad thing; it remains crucial in making logical decisions. And in conversation, both Benson and Moorhead stated they hope that nobody takes away from this film that being curious is a bad thing. It is only when looking at where people gather information from that a larger issue reveals itself.
As the two characters in the film dive deeper into the rabbit hole of Levi’s apartment, more and more peripheral knowledge begins seeping into the research being done. From claiming sources such as half remembering a podcast or a Ted Talk to surfing through Reddit comments, the two begin basing their interpretations of reality off of information that could very well be fictional. The two seemed to have been becoming decent friends up until this point. It is only when these differences in beliefs present themselves that the cracks in their relationship begin to show. A genuine curiosity and hope of perhaps making the next great Netflix documentary leads to paranoia and a general mistrust not just in the other, but larger systems and commonly held beliefs. Something in the Dirt is oftentimes quite funny thanks to the chemistry of Benson and Moorhead, but the devolution of the two characters in this film takes aim at an all too real dilemma society is experiencing.
As misinformation becomes more prevalent and easily accessible, many inevitably fall victim. While some are able to catch on better than others, as shown in Something in the Dirt, even characters we may come to sympathize with can become trapped and reveal some mean-spirited aspects about themselves. Something in the Dirt offers contemplations on pretty much every possible conspiracy from contacting aliens to living within a simulation. Boldly, Benson and Moorhead don’t offer all the answers up on a silver platter. Because at the end of the day, they still hope to invoke some form of curiosity in the viewer; and to have such confidence in audiences even with such darkness going on in the world is something that should be welcomed.
Something in the Dirt will be released in select theaters on November 4.