There is Something in the Dirt from Benson and Moorhead, but it doesn’t amount to much: Sundance Film Festival Review

Set-in present-day Hollywood Hills, Something in the Dirt tells the story of two neighbours Levi and John (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead), who both meet after Levi had recently moved into an apartment, following a large amount of predicaments. The two strike up a quick camaraderie as they exchange life stories, intimate secrets and their unique views on the world and beyond.

But one day, the two witness something extraordinary in one of their apartments. While one would think that if someone saw something as bizarre as that, they should leave. But Levi and John see this strange occurrence as an opportunity to strike to get themselves out of their ruts in the lives. But the deeper they venture, the dirtier they get.

The filmmaking team of Benson and Moorhead have been great storytellers since this reviewer has seen their work from their debut feature film Resolution. Their melding of high-concept science-fiction ideas with palpable human drama makes their work stand out in ways that are gloriously weird and yet deeply relatable. So, when news came about of their latest project, it seems like it was going to be a real winner.

Unfortunately, even with all of its ideas and concepts it has up its sleeve, the film still feels a bit undernourished. As for the positives, the technical prowess from the filmmakers is as great as ever. Even with the COVID restrictions and the meagre budget, Benson and Moorehead still manage to assemble an appealingly lo-fi production that fits the scale of the story as well as provide a compelling dramatic stage for our lead characters as they try to process their scheme on display.

Secondly, the chemistry between Benson and Moorhead is fantastic. Even with the self-conscious dialogue on display, the two share a great bond that feels welcoming, strange and very funny. The concepts of existentialism during the time of the pandemic does fuel the drama a bit as the institutionalized feel of the storytelling does lead to notions of paranoia.

But as time goes on, all the crackpot and conspiracy theories should lead to something that feels emotionally earned. The film does not have the compelling human element that the previous films like Synchronic or Spring had, which makes the path to getting just becomes more interminable as the almost two-hour runtime goes on.

The film also disappoints in the plot, as it does not lead to any sort of compelling or interesting revelation. In the end, it just all feels so glorified, like some kind of joke. While it may be the filmmakers’ intentions since a lot of the film is quite humourous, the payoff just feels lacking in both humour or drama.

Something in the Dirt is a minor disappointment from Benson and Moorhead. While the film certainly has vast ambitions and a great chemistry between the two leads, the lack of human connection behind the story makes the proceedings rather tedious and monotonous as the film reaches its close.

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Something in the Dirt is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 20th and 30th, 2022.  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.