[Sundance 2022] SOMETHING IN THE DIRT -- A Wonderfully Indie Return to Form for Moorhead and Benson
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have gained a cult following thanks to their indie approach to the sci-fi genre, but have recently stepped into bigger-budget projects with Synchronic and the upcoming Moon Knight. But it’s nice to see they are still in touch with their roots, as their brainy parody Something in the Dirt shows that they still have it in the indie department.
The film follows two neighbors who begin to experience strange paranormal phenomena in their apartment building, and decide to document it, causing them to spiral down an increasingly bizarre rabbit hole. In terms of pure ambition, this is definitely one of the more impressive movies to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That said, the film is definitely scatter-brained, jumping from one thing to another multiple times. It’s almost fitting, given the generally disorganized nature of the genre which Moorhead and Benson are parodying, but the particular rhythm and energy that this movie has can be quite disorienting at times. And there’s not really a huge reason for this film to be two hours.
The movie is a lot less mind-bending than the rest of the duo’s work, for better or worse. The film is dedicated to making movies with your friends, and it’s hard not to admire just the level of fun that the team is having here. It may not be the most thematically rich movie, but it’s just a sweet and wholesome outing that it’s hard not to love.
Moorhead and Benson develop the characters in a very natural way. We grow to love these pals through their friendship with one another, much of their growth being brought about by the other. Even though the characters aren’t the most unconventional, they are compelling and sympathetic nevertheless.
The directorial duo also plays the two main roles, and it is clear that they have an even greater connection to this film than they have had to some of their prior ones. The performance of Benson is especially good, as he takes a character that easily could have been a zany wacko and turned it into something genuinely layered.
What Moorhead and Benson were able to do despite the limited scope of the production is absolutely magnificent. There is some very minimal CGI used in a few scenes in the movie, and it doesn’t look bad. And the way in which they recreate the tropes of that genre of documentary filmmaking is great.
Something in the Dirt is a welcome treat for fans of Moorhead and Benson, as it proves that they are here to stay. Although it may not be the most complex film, it’s so outright lovable that it’s hard not to admire.
Something in the Dirt screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which ran virtually from January 20-30.
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