Exploring Paranoia and the Paranormal with “Something in the Dirt”

By Katie Small

Something in the Dirt is a strange trip. The pandemic brainchild of collaborators Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson features paranormal activity, pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, mockumentary interviews, found footage, and heady wormholes, and is very much of the times. In true DIY-spirit, Moorhead and Benson co- directed, produced, shot, edited and starred in this highly imaginative sci-fi movie-within-a-movie.

It’s the autumnal equinox and a fiery, smoky day in Los Angeles when Levi moves into a bare-bones apartment complex. He intends to use the place as a crash pad while he ties up loose ends before leaving the city, but his plans change dramatically when he and his neighbor John encounter a freaky supernatural occurrence within his apartment. The two loners set off on a quest to document and define the strange phenomena, forming a shaky friendship in the process. 

During a post-premiere Q&A, Moorhead and Benson, joined by their 12-person film crew of close friends, zoomed in from the actual primary location of their movie — Levi’s apartment — which happens to be Benson’s real-life apartment that he inhabited in a near-empty state during the course of the year-long shoot. The idea for the film was born during the isolation of the pandemic, but the filmmakers say that keeping their production small allowed them the freedom to explore ideas and pivot with less disruption.  

The audience Q&A was dominated by loyal fans who asked specific questions about the thematic connections between Something in the Dirt and the duo’s previous productions. “In some ways all of our movies are about the same thing,” Moorhead says. “Those obsessions that you fixate on, those things that you never solve over the entire span of your life no matter how much you meditate and do drugs,” he laughs. “Sometimes we’re able to verbally pinpoint it, like ‘This is what the movie’s about!’ but ultimately it still kind of escapes us, because our ideas are just a little bit bigger than we’re even able to talk about.”