Something In the Dirt Review: The Endless Directors Deconstruct Themselves – Polygon | Episode Movies

Sometimes it’s obvious when a film was made as a COVID-19 project. Many established filmmakers have recently released films about cabin fever or isolation—often scaled-down projects that use limited cast and locations for sometimes uncomfortable effects. But while the new sci-fi feature Something in the dirt is one of those quarantine projects that still feels a bit like coming home moon knight and Synchronous Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. (Not least because the main setting is Moorhead’s actual apartment.) This isn’t even the first cosmically dreadcentric head trip they’ve written and directed while also taking on prominent on-camera roles: 2018 The Endlessthey play brothers confronting a doomsday cult centered on time loops.

In their latest film, the couple play neighbors in a seedy apartment building in Los Angeles. Levi Danube (Benson) is a new tenant, an aging bartender with a seedy past and the long-haired looks of a surfer brother. He soon meets John Daniels (Moorhead), a bespectacled churchgoer who makes a living from amateur photography gigs, works part-time for an electric scooter company, and gets checks from his ex-husband. They’re a kind of related burnouts, connected first by the relative affordability of a building with constantly screeching airplanes, then by something else entirely when they witness supernatural anomalies in Levi’s apartment.

First, the stone they use for an ashtray begins to move on its own, refracting ethereal light and levitating. Other phenomena soon follow: mysterious heat sources, musical resonance, localized tremors, and objects that seem to appear out of nowhere. These events, Levi and John believe, are their ticket to bigger and better things. Different styles and temperaments aside, they team up to film the events in hopes of selling the footage to Netflix as a documentary.

Photo: XYZ Films

The result more or less follows the story beats of a found footage film, complete with faux behind-the-scenes setups and interview cutaways heralding an ominous incident. The catch, however, is that little of the film includes the usual jittery handheld footage captured by panicked characters. Like Netflix Archive 81, a horror series that was directed by Benson and Moorhead for two of the eight episodes, the footage is more of a story device than a rigid style to follow. Levi and John are mostly shown from the perspective of conventional cameras watching the action, which eventually turns out to be staged re-enactments that Levi and John create for their eventual documentary.

The way the film doesn’t reveal these re-enactments up front intentionally adds a layer of distrust over an already knotted meta-film premise. But it also shows the film’s sense of humor: unlike the dogged cinematographers in horror films and thrillers, who are more typical of the found footage format, these guys just don’t have the discipline or focus to film all the time .

John and Levi spend much of the film presenting theories colored by whatever podcast they just listened to, or that trivia snippet they kept to avoid falling into a Wikipedia hole. They examine topics ranging from alien contact to radiation levels to a cult dedicated to Pythagoras and his theorem of the triangle. Your ideas are all nice and digestible and create a comfortable hangout atmosphere.

After a certain point, however, it becomes apparent that few of these events are meant to fit together. (Maybe none of them are.) Whether the floating objects and dancing lights are random, imagined, or downright staged, what matters is that any meaning is derived from the characters themselves. They find patterns that feed into their own personal story, because that’s what believing in a conspiracy theory or the paranormal is all about: seeing what you want to see to make sense of yourself.

The obvious touchstone for Something in the dirt is the spread of real-world conspiracy theories and the current rise of fascism in America. If people want to believe in something, they will find ways to believe in it. The lack of evidence becomes evidence itself, a sign of either a cover-up or that there is so little to see that only the most observant, knowledgeable few could even notice. We choose our realities, and people tend to choose the one that suits them, that flatters them as the chosen ones to watch amidst the sea of ​​thoughtless sheep.

Levi (Justin Benson) and John (Aaron Moorhead) stand by an intricately patterned wall and point a camera at something off-screen, staring at them suspiciously, in

Photo: XYZ Films

The manner in which Benson and Moorhead examine found footage films is relevant here, since the format’s apparent amateurishness is so crucial to its authenticity. The artifice is obvious in a conventional film, suggesting manipulation and the ability to fool the audience. Crappy lighting and an unstable camera, however, suggest a chaotic, unfiltered reality where little effort has gone into smoothing the edges to control what we see. It’s like The Blair Witch Project can be scary, although it’s built around some vaguely personified arrangements of sticks and a man standing in a corner. When we engage with the reality of what we see on screen, our minds do the rest.

Something in the dirt could rightly be called an outright parody, demonstrating a jocular undercurrent even beyond the meta flourishes Levi and John use to invent titles for their documentary, like Something in the Light. The film’s plot and construction invites viewers to question its format and the things it shows through re-enactments, showing how easily and indiscriminately we project meaning to insert it into the narrative we want. The film is full of clippings of images that illustrate the full, absurd range of Levi’s and John’s talking points and how persuasive an argument can be in a framework built to support it. Plausibility can be constructed, and it’s not even difficult to do.

The problem with Something in the dirt, however, is that deconstructing the idea of ​​documentary veracity in a format we already know to be fake isn’t as revealing. Watching a film—even a found-footage film that tries to seem realistic—means being aware of the artistry and still investing in or rejecting the emotions.

The overall effect of Something in the dirt is a bit like watching a version of The usual suspects that shows the big twist about reality and storytelling in the middle of the movie. Levi and John continue to theorize long after the film establishes that plausibility is irrelevant, that they can make up pretty much any theory about what they’re experiencing and still invent a story that forces the pieces to fit together. With a running time of almost two hours Something in the dirt goes a long way to making the obvious point that people can find any pattern they want if they look hard enough.

The film is really clever at times in the way it explores the construction of illusions. But the process is draining because it also pushes the audience away, deterring them from any investment or belief in the narrative. Compared to the movies that do the same thing with a straight face – the misleading of lake mongoosethe multimedia detective work of Noroi: The curse, the online alienation expressed through We’re all going to the World’s FairSomething in the dirt brings less and is less fun.

Something in the dirt hits theaters on November 4th and will be available on VOD on November 20th.

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