Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are about to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Moon Knight. Before that they explore the potential mysteries of our universe at Sundance when they find Something In The DIrt.
Levi (Benson) has moved in to a crummy, run-down apartment in downtown L.A. until he figures out his next move out of town. There he meets wedding photographer and Evangelical church goer Josh (Moorhead), who has recently broken up with his partner, and the two bond over a smoke. One day they witness supernatural events in Levi’s place, they realise documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives.
What follows is presented as a documentary. The type that you would regularly find on Netflix. Complete with talking heads from the people involved, footage recorded by the duo and archive material used to illustrate salient points and theories.
As with the best of this genre of found footage/mockumentaries, it sets out that things between the duo did not end well and the audience is left to solve that mystery just as Levi and Josh investigate the mysterious goings on within their building.
They are not exactly a stoner version of Mulder & Scully but the characters are certainly left dazed & confused. Both of them have a past they are concealing from each other and have low expectations for the future. Levi is running from something while Josh awaits the impending apocalypse. The problem of having nothing to live for is that it creates a void inside. The danger there is what one fills it with.
The initial remit of documenting paranormal activity soon branches off into the worlds of mathematics, physics, architecture, cults and a city-wide conspiracy. The number 1908 appearing with increasing regularity. A mysterious symbol is found on buildings all over Los Angeles. A few repeated notes from Ode to Joy. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or are they just looking for something that isn’t there. Becoming further and further detached from reality.
Just like the protagonists spinning a giant web of conspiracy from the tiniest of threads, Moorhead & Benson are able to produce incredibly complex and ambitious films from the smallest ideas and budgets. The Endless and Synchronic have showcased their skill and creativity and this further establishes the duo as a triple threat.
Not only do they demonstrate a complete understanding of the tropes and formatting of the genre but they are also able to manipulate it to their own advantage. To peek behind the curtain so to speak. Footage shows the two repeatedly recording the same segments to get the right tone or line reading. Or recreating entire scenes using special effects when they fail to capture something the first time round.
It helps to muddy the waters and blur the lines between fact and fiction. Fantasy and reality. Is any of this real or is all of it invented for the documentary?
Fans of the underrated Under The Silver Lake will love this film. Both feel like they could be set in the same cinematic multiverse that is Los Angeles. One with many many secrets to uncover.
Good luck getting the dirt out from under your fingernails because once you start digging into Something In The Dirt, you will find yourself crawling down the rabbit hole that is this intense mind fuck of a mystery.
Something In The Dirt screens at the Sundance Film Festival
Director: Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson
Stars: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
Runtime: 116 minutes