Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead on Something In The Dirt: ‘The reason you do bigger films is to be able to make smaller films with your friends’

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead chat to us about their new film Something In The Dirt, which has just amazed audiences at FrightFest. 

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

FrightFest has  wrapped up another stellar event full of blood, guts and great films on the big screen. Among them was Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Something In The Dirt. A film about two neighbours encountering a supernatural phenomenon and trying to record evidence of it went down a treat with the FrightFest audiences, playing to a sold out crowd. 

The pair are currently in the UK (on the border of Chiswick and Hammersmith as they tell me), busy with season 2 of Marvel’s Loki, their second and arguably biggest job with megastudio Marvel. The pair dipped their toes into some bigger productions with their 2021 film Synchronic, starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan, and by directing two episodes of Moon Knight for Marvel. 

Something In The Dirt feels somewhat of a return to their roots and it fits nicely into their larger body of work, but it’s in fact an amalgamation of a graveyard of previous ideas. 

something in the dirt

“In the 10 years since we made our first movie, Resolution, we have been approached about a lot of different stories that you might broadly call haunted house stories,” says Justin Benson of the origins of Something In The Dirt, before adding that their takes on the stories were always “a little bit too wild to get the job.”

“We also really wanted to know what it would look like if people reacted like the two of us would react if we encountered the supernatural,” adds Aaron Moorhead. “I know we wouldn’t run away screaming. For us, there’s a wish fulfilment in the supernatural, so we wanted to see two characters who would, in this case, exploit it, but at least try to go and make sense of it, as opposed to just calling it the devil and running away.”

Benson and Moorhead are well-known in the genre circles. Their second feature film Spring was described as Before Sunrise for horror fans and The Endless is a cult favourite. Something In The Dirt – which sees the two directors star in it, just like they did in The Endless – continues the pair’s interest in the supernatural and cosmic. Except Something In the Dirt feels much more intimate than their more recent efforts so I naturally ask if they’ve missed making films on this scale.

“We’ve never really stopped making movies at that scale. The Endless, for example, is actually a really small movie, in terms of size of the crew, and budget. There’s a thing of not wanting to get to the point where we do miss it,” Benson explains. So can fans trust that the pair will always make time for films like Something In The Dirt despite the bigger projects for other studios?

something in the dirt justin benson

“It’s not even about time. You can trust that there’s always a stronger desire to make films where, I don’t want to take anything away from a hard working crew, we’re wearing a lot of hats. The desire will never leave us unless we’re just old and frail,” Moorhead insists. 

“There’s a thing when you first start out making very small films,” he continues. “You think you’re making small films, so you can go make larger projects. But once you become part of the movie industry at large, as opposed to just making independent films with your friends, you realise the reason why you do those bigger films is to be able to make smaller films with your friends.”

Benson nods in agreement. 

I ask if they’ve had the pleasure of checking out Jordan Peele’s Nope yet, a film that certainly shares a lot of plot similarities with Something In The Dirt. Both films are about regular people encountering something supernatural and attempting to record it. 

“Yes, we found it really delightful,” Moorhead says, before admitting they feared that Peele’s film would be too similar to theirs. “It was kind of like how Resolution and Cabin In The Woods crossed paths, and then went in completely different ways.”

something in the dirt justin benson

The pair have worked with Peele before on his The Twilight Zone reboot, directing a deliciously Lovecraftian episode, starring Joel McHale. “Clearly, there’s an aesthetic compulsion that we share,” Moorhead says of their and Peele’s work. 

We talk about why we’re so obsessed about recording everything. Benson thinks it’s the more unsavoury parts of ourselves that fuel that desire to record ourselves (“I include myself in that”), while Moorhead is quick to point out that Something In The Dirt doesn’t necessarily share that theme with Nope.

“I also feel like Something In The Dirt in particular isn’t about our compulsion to record everything. There is a piece that becomes that, but they’re really trying to get proof of the supernatural and that doesn’t feel like vanity at first. They want to be successful, but I don’t think that’s actually a dark thing.”

The characters in Something In The Dirt are morally ambiguous, to say the least. While both John and Levi are played by Moorhead and Benson respectively, Moorhead says there isn’t much of their own personalities in the characters. 

“Those characters have very different worldviews and personalities than ourselves, which was delightful and deliberate from a performance perspective. We really didn’t want people to finish the movie and just think that these characters represent the views of the filmmakers – God forbid.” 

Benson, who wrote the screenplay, had the task of making sure the audience understood the difference between the filmmakers’ own values and the characters. 

“A lot of it was from the very beginning, making sure that in telling the story of John and Levi that we weren’t taught the story of heroes; that right from the offset, you understand as an audience member, that they’re both extremely flawed and that was actually part of the story. Intentionally, the audience’s allegiances to the characters would shift, given the information available at that point in the story.”  

We end our chat with a question about Marvel: I ask if they’d be interested in working with the megastudio again after Loki, unsubtly mentioning Marvel’s present hunt for the right person (or people) to helm Avengers: Secret Wars. The pair are understandably tight-lipped about it all. 

“We’ve been really lucky in that all of the stuff that we’ve done in the industry at large outside of independent film,” Benson begins. “They’ve all been really good experiences and we’ve been really lucky in that way. There probably isn’t any enterprise we’ve ever worked for that we wouldn’t work for again.” Very diplomatic. 

A week after our chat, Something In The Dirt premieres at FrightFest to much acclaim. Moorhead calls the experience “Extraordinary, overwhelming, humbling,” on Twitter.

It’s exactly how I, and many more, would describe Something In The Dirt too. 

Something In The Dirt will be in UK Cinemas from 4th November and on Digital Download + Blu-ray from 5th December

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