Something In The Dirt


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Something In The Dirt
"What matters here is not so much the phenomenon itself, but the way that the characters become obsessed with it." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

There’s a scene in David Fincher’s Zodiac in which Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator visits a prisoner, telling her that he’s looking for information about the Zodiac killer. “Figures,” she says. “You’ve got the look.”

John (Aaron Moorhead) and Levi (Justin Benson) have the look.

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With films like Spring and The Endless under their belts, the directing duo are now expected to produce big things, and Something In The Dirt, which screened at 2022’s Fantasia and Frightfest, does not disappoint. That said, it’s very different from what some viewers might expect, its possibly supernatural element kept to a minimum in order to let it focus on something subtler. What matters here is not so much the phenomenon itself, but the way that the characters become obsessed with it, the rabbit holes they scurry down as they pursue all manner of possible leads, and the ease with which intelligent people can lose their balance when overwhelmed by the desire to find meaning.

John is a mathematician, living quietly in his Los Angeles apartment, recently divorced and with no apparent social life. Levi is his new neighbour, a drifter with a surfer bro look which, in light of his age, marks him too as a social outsider. When he asks John for a cigarette, the two hit it off almost immediately, but part of the reason for this may be that John is anxious to get into Levi’s apartment, which has been inaccessible to him since the previous tenant left. There’s a mystery there – some unknown force which causes objects, notably a crystal ashtray, to levitate from time to time. Is it an odd gravitational effect? Is it ghosts? Is it aliens? He doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Quickly absorbing Levi’s full attention too, the strange effect draws the two of them into an intense friendship – despite some serious misgivings as they find out more about each other – and then gradually contributes to that friendship breaking down. They uncover all sorts of fascinating facts and theories about what they observe, the building and the city – which is dominated throughout by plumes of smoke looming overhead, the consequence of wildfires in the hills – but disagreements over petty things become as passionate as their shared enthusiasm for the project. Moments of childlike joy alternate with scenes in which all their flaws are magnified. The film encompasses some very bleak moments, some hilarious ones, and some which are simply, marvellously strange.

Though there are moments when the film moves a little too slowly, it never ceases to be interesting, and it’s a treasure trove of secrets – audience members will need to be on their guard to avoid falling down rabbit holes themselves if tempted to follow these up. According to the directors, the film is set in the same universe as The Endless and Resolution, and there are multiple cross-references hidden within it, again tempting viewers to approach it with the same obsessiveness as its characters. Step back a little. however, and you can enjoy a character-driven drama which easily stands on its own. Something beautiful happens between these two people – or at any rate, something beautiful is possible – though they might not realise it until too late. Sometimes the search for truth can make us miss what’s right there is front of us.

Something In The Dirt will be in UK and US cinemas from 4 November and on Digital Download and Blu-ray from 5 December.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2022
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When neighbours John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realise documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city, and each other.
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Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Starring: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson

Year: 2022

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US

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