When you discuss the best horror directors working today, there are a few names that will inevitably come up, like James Wan, Jordan Peele, and Mike Flanagan. But in addition to those mainstream filmmakers, there are a few indie directors who deserve to be in the discussion as well, and for my money, the best of that bunch are Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
If you’re not a hardcore horror fan, you might not know who these guys are, but trust me, they’re fantastic. They’ve been directing together for over a decade, and they’ve made some of the most original and thought-provoking horror films of this millennium. In fact, they’re so good that Marvel Studios brought them on to direct a few episodes of their Disney+ show Moon Knight, and the duo also directed the majority of the episodes in the upcoming second season of Loki.
They’re just a great filmmaking team, and thankfully, they’re showing no signs of slowing down. I’m sure they’ll continue to produce excellent work together for years to come, so before their filmography grows to unmanageable proportions, let’s take a look at how their movies stack up against each other.
In the number five spot, we have Synchronic, a sci-fi thriller about a pair of paramedics who discover the terrifying and time-bending truth about a new psychedelic drug. I have to be honest, this is the only Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead film I’m not a huge fan of. In fact, the first time I watched it, I straight up didn’t like it. I found it hugely disappointing, and even though it’s grown on me since then, I still think it’s a pretty big step down from the rest of their work.
It just feels a bit bland and uninspired, so even though it features the kind of head-scratching genre mystery Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are known for, it doesn’t grab me the same way their other movies do. It’s tough to put my finger on what exactly the problem is, but I simply don’t care about the characters and the story nearly as much as I do with the rest of their films.
Granted, I still enjoy Synchronic, so I’m not entirely unmoved by it. In fact, if it was made by anybody other than Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, I might even like it more. These guys have just set the bar so high for their work that the flaws in this film are a lot more noticeable than they otherwise would be, so even though I do enjoy it, I have to put it at the bottom of this list.
Next up, we have Spring, a genre-bending horror romance about an American man named Evan who goes to Italy and falls in love with a local woman named Louise. As you can probably guess, they start a relationship, and as the movie goes on, Evan soon learns that Louise is hiding a monstrous secret.
If you haven’t seen Spring, I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t go into any more detail than that. Suffice it to say, it features two great lead characters and some really cool monsters, and it’s a touching exploration of the true meaning of love. It’s one of the best horror movies of the last decade, so it actually pains me a bit to rank it this low.
I wanted to put it higher on my list, but I just think the rest of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s filmography is better (except for Synchronic, of course). See, as great as Spring is, it has one tiny issue that knocks it out of my top three. The monsters feel a bit like an afterthought, so I would’ve liked them to play a bigger role in the film.
Admittedly, that’s a very minor problem. In fact, it’s really more of a nitpick than anything else. The story works almost perfectly the way it is, so normally, I wouldn’t even bother mentioning such a minuscule hiccup. But in this context, it makes all the difference. I have to find some way to rank Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s movies, and between Spring and the next film on this list, the gap is just a hair’s breadth.
Resolution was Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s feature directorial debut, and what a debut it was. It’s about a guy named Mike who tries to save his friend Chris from his drug addiction, but soon after he arrives at Chris’ new home, the pair begin to experience some strange, potentially supernatural phenomena.
They find weird pictures and recordings around the place, and soon enough, they also begin to discover recordings of themselves that nobody around them could’ve taken. They’re totally baffled by how those recordings got there, and the more they find, the more bizarre the situation becomes.
I don’t know about you, but I find that premise super intriguing, and thankfully, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead execute it to perfection. Seriously, Resolution has it all. The characters are an absolute joy to watch, the mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time, and the story is a great The Cabin in the Woods-esque allegory for the sometimes-crushing expectations fans have of filmmakers.
It’s just fantastic, and without exaggeration, I can honestly say that I don’t have any problems with it. It’s basically flawless, so it beats out Spring for the number three spot on this list.
2) The Endless
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead don’t do sequels, but they have created a really cool little cinematic universe. Spring and Resolution both mention a character called Sh*tty Carl, so even though the stories don’t have anything to do with each other, the films take place in the same universe. Then, when they made The Endless, they went all in on the idea. This movie is set in the same general area as Resolution, and it’s about the same monster too. It even checks in on Chris and Mike, so while it’s not technically a sequel, it’s about as close as you can get without literally being Resolution 2.
The film follows a pair of brothers, Justin and Aaron (played by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead), who escaped a UFO death cult about a decade ago, but when they receive a strange video message from one of its members, they decide to go back and visit their old friends one last time. Soon after they arrive, they experience a bunch of increasingly strange and inexplicable phenomena, so they’re forced to reconsider the cult’s beliefs and the deity it worships.
I’m a sucker for cult movies, so naturally, that premise idea intrigues the hell out of me. And once again, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead execute it perfectly. In fact, I’d even say that The Endless basically does everything Resolution did, but better. It features an equally likable main duo (as well as a whole host of awesome side characters), an even more mind-bending mystery, and another genuinely meaningful story.
On top of that, it also deepens the mythology behind its monster in a really cool way, but it doesn’t go overboard. It maintains the Lovecraftian mystique that made Resolution so great, so it’s an even more satisfying monster movie than its predecessor. It’s just an all-around great watch, so for a while, this was my favorite Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead film.
1) Something in the Dirt
In my review of Something in the Dirt, I said it just might be the best movie Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have ever done, but I wasn’t quite sure. I needed some more time to let it sink in, and now, after giving it a few rewatches, I’m ready to say that my initial feeling was correct. This film stands firmly at the top of my list, and truth be told, I’d be surprised if it ever gets bumped down to number two.
Something in the Dirt is about two men, John and Levi, who experience a strange, potentially supernatural phenomenon in their apartment building. They’re not really sure what to make of it, so they try to study the occurrence and capture it on film, and that goal leads them down a dark rabbit hole to nowhere.
Much like the last three movies on this list, this one also includes the three staples that make Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead such great storytellers: an excellent pair of lead characters, a spellbinding mystery, and a fantastic message. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from this duo, so what sets it apart from the rest of their filmography?
For me, it’s the paranormal mystery. It’s a beautiful web of pseudoscience, real science, and confirmation bias that will grab your attention immediately, and it doesn’t let go until the credits begin to roll. It’s far and away the best mystery these guys have ever done, so every time I rewatch the film, I find myself utterly captivated by this bizarre phenomenon and the characters’ nonstop theorizing about it. I want to go on the journey with these guys, so my eyes stay glued to the screen the entire time.
Simply put, Something in the Dirt is one of the most fascinating and intellectually stimulating genre movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s one of the best films of this millennium, so it more than earns its spot at the top of this list.