In 2019 a film opened here in Australia with very little fanfare – it was a film that blended genres together so brilliantly and was so well written that I fell in love with it straight away.
That film was called Synchronic and still to this day I declare that movie never got the love that it deserved. Not only did the film get me to fall in love with it straight away it also put filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead on my radar.
When I heard that their new movie Something In The Dirt was landing, I jumped at the opportunity to watch it, but that is where the disappointment started to set in because apart of the post-apocalyptic feel that the two manage to bring to modern day Los Angeles, and the small moments of grit, there are very little similarities between Something In The Dirt and what made Synchronic so good.
Something In The Dirt revolves around two characters. There is Levi (Benson) who suddenly arrives on the scene at what appears to be a semi-vacant apartment building. Levi is a bartender with a criminal record, one that he says he doesn’t deserve. The other character is Levi’s brand-new neighbour – openly gay Evangelical Christian John (Moorhead).
Upon Levi’s arrival, the two begin to bond straightaway while sitting in the building’s dingy courtyard watching fire-fighting helicopters battle a wildfire in the local hills. John is the perfect neighbour, asking the right questions and offering Levi all his ex-husband’s furniture in a bid to help him move in.
But soon the two have another bonding experience when they both realise that something supernatural is happening in the apartment building and they start to dream of what would happen if they caught the event on tape and released it as a documentary.
There are elements of Something In The Dirt that I found really worked. The natural acting styles of Benson and Moorhead do lend themselves to the mockumentary genre well, but I fear that a lot of people watching the film will find themselves feeling a little cheated that after such a brilliant opening to the film it then delves into the traditional mockumentary style and are told that the opening scene was a ‘re-creation’ of when Levi and John first met.
Likewise, the way the film explores the notion that once a person starts on the whole conspiracy theory, they end up going down a rabbit hole really interested me. During the pandemic I found myself doing a number of radio pieces on the conspiracy theories going around online and I saw that happen first-hand. The fact that Benson and Moorhead chose to explore that theory in such a Lovecratian way is admirable but sadly this film ends up being barely a pass mark.
The biggest weakness is that Something In The Dirt doesn’t hold its suspense throughout the way it should. This is basically a film where one character has a sketchy criminal record that he finds himself constantly defending, while the first time we meet the other character he has blood on his clothes, which he denies with a flimsy story about it being a drink, whose ex-husband has ‘left.’
Meanwhile something supernatural may or may not be happening in their apartment building. If filmmakers can’t hold suspense with those things mixed into the screenplay, then something is seriously wrong. Yet, there are times where the storyline reaches such a lull that my mind started to wander to more mundane things.
One of the worst experiences I find in cinema is when you are so eagerly waiting for a new film to drop and then finally sit down to watch it yourself, only to be bitterly disappointed. It’s like wanting that new Pop Vinyl for your birthday and then opening your present only to discover socks and jocks.
Something In The Dirt feels like a missed opportunity. With the talent of Moorhouse and Benson this could easily have become a mockumentary as good as the classic Lake Mungo. Instead, we are left with a film that starts off promising but trails off into something that will disappoint many.