There is no getting around how weird Something in the Dirt is. Granted, weird is kind of Benson and Moorhead’s thing. But compared to their other films I’ve seen, Synchronic and The Endless, this one stands above the others as way weirder. The schizoid nature of the thing — which seeks to blend dark comedy, sci-fi and religious fundamentalism — just makes for a jarring and stoney experience that kept me completely off-kilter the entire two-hour runtime. I uttered “what the fuck…” out loud to an empty room at least ten times during my viewing. And probably said it another fifty times in my head. I want to pretend this was a beautiful mess, but I think maybe it was just a mess. An interesting one at times, but still a movie that seemed to struggle with continuity, tonality and making any damn sense.
I fail to understand how they market this thing as a comedy. I think what they think is funny is just weirdness. Weirdness isn’t funny, it’s just weird. And the things they espouse to be are intentionally silly, and therefore unrealistic and pretty dumb. One dude, John, is a part-time math teacher who belongs to an evangelical church who believe in the coming apocalypse. Mind you, this movie takes place in a hipster LA neighborhood. You know, the hotbed of snake-handling cults and super-Christ-y people. The other guy, Levi, is a spear-fisher and part-time sucky handyman. Two intentionally stupid things for two guys to be. Especially two dudes who witness a floating piece of quartz in the one guy’s apartment and decide to turn into documentary filmmakers. True story.
Now why in the world would these two seeming idiots decide to be documentarians? Not like buy a handycam and film this floating crystal ashtray to send to TMZ or something, but like make an actual film. Despite the fact they have twelve dollars between them. It’s such a goofy, transparent insider-movie-making conceit, it’s absurd. There is no way these two dudes would do this. Not in a million years. And when this weird force that makes ashtrays float starts to also do other random things in this tiny, dilapidated apartment that nobody seems to be paying rent on, the dudes start to fight about religion and theories that neither would ever have the smarts to come up with. Even if one of them happens to be a sometimes, maybe math teacher.
The film itself was clearly made on the cheap. And presumably made during COVID, so that the crew and cast was seriously limited. It’s mostly just Benson and Moorehead hanging in this gross flat. Which is apparently Benson’s actual home. Sad. Honestly, I’m trying to wrap my head around what these guys were trying to do with this film. It’s a comedy that’s not funny. It’s sci-fi that is incredibly vague on the science. And it’s a mystery film that feels not at all dedicated to solving a mystery. Instead it’s an oddball stage play that does the whole indie film, high-falutin-by-way-of-low-brow thing. Hipster heshers. You know. Almost like early Guided by Voices, a band that could have afforded to use real recording equipment, but chose to make their music purposely sound like shit because that was kind of rad in 1992. That used to be something we liked in our indie films, but in the 2020s it feels almost trope-y more than it does cool. There are a few neat elements in the film, but as a whole, it is just too all over the place and tossed-off to be enjoyable as a serious work of art.