Something in the Dirt review: Two L.A. losers discover a crack reality (or maybe it's their sanity)
Something in the Dirt (2022 movie)
L.A. conspiracy movies take the long and winding road to get somewhere obvious. (The pleasure comes in the driving.) In the granddaddy of them all, Chinatown, the destination is sinister. In gentler variations — everything from The Big Lebowski to Under the Silver Lake — the takeaway is various shades of: It's nicer not to be alone. Doubling down on COVID-era listlessness and QAnon paranoia, the impressively fidgety, crammed-to-bursting Something in the Dirt ends up with something like: Please let my life make sense. It's an understandable wish in an uncertain moment.
The two burnout bros at the heart of Something, both of them thirtyish failures, could definitely use the validation. (As played by the film's DIY writer-director-producer-editors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the characters take on a winning circularity.) They meet in a dilapidated courtyard, the hillside on fire behind them; apocalypse is never far from mind. Levi (Benson) is a partied-out ex-barback with a criminal record. John (Moorhead), seemingly more with it, but only seemingly, is an intense gay Evangelical who charges electric scooters for a living.
When they observe a quartz crystal — an ashtray, really — levitating on its own in one of their disgusting apartments, you at first wonder if it's a hallucination. But the only drug they seem to be on is too much nicotine, and the unexplainable repeats itself (the movie's effects are shoddy in a huggable way). Have they happened upon a miracle? It's time for them to get real and make the documentary that will prove their claim and bring in the windfall they already start counting.
You're not going to understand even a fraction of what follows after their tech-challenged first day: Tangents explode in every direction, touching on charged energy fields and the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to a unique geometric shape they begin to see all over L.A. But even as the flow of the movie approaches incoherence, then rushes headlong past it, a redeeming strain of brotherly camaraderie takes root, even amid constant sniping and bitching. Trapped together in their half-made documentary and general plight, they make a sad but sweet duo.
And that turns Something in the Dirt into something of a success — if a qualified one, to which you have to bring your own patience for near-OCD mania. Benson and Moorhead have been making no-budget features for a decade (they're far more polished than their roles), and their latest venture comes closest to self-critique and sincerity. Childhood home videos figure into the mix. There's a kind of poetry here, both a reflection of their city and of dead-end lives, and even if they can't articulate it perfectly, they're trying. That puts them ahead of most of the pack. Grade: B+