The Dirties is probably the heaviest movie I’ve had to review for SJP. I am completely out of my comfort zone. With subject matters like bullying and school shootings it almost impossible for me to crack jokes and not be an insensitive dick. I also don’t find either very funny. Both of these topics are hot button issues and spark major debate. Matt Johnson has taken a hell of chance with his first feature film and handles these controversial topic with respect and realism.
Matt Johson ( the character not the director…. well he is the director too… ) is a movie obsessed geek who along with his best friend Owen (Owen Williams) are making a violent revenge movie as a school project. The student film centers around two renegade cops extracting revenge on a local gang known as The Dirties. This also happens to be the nick name Matt and Owen have given the high school bullies who torture them on a daily basis. After premiering The Dirties to the school Owen is brutally attacked which leads to Matt joking about a sequel to The Dirties in which they actually kill their tormentors and put it on film. For an unmentioned reason Matt is constantly being filmed by an unnamed camera man (or two?). This camera man is unflinching and seems to have an unspoken agreement that they will continue to film no matter how far Matt is willing to go.
Matt is an overly spastic character who spouts off pop culture references at every turn and has a level of self awareness that makes it hard not to root for him. That is till you see that he has clear intentions of carrying out this “sequel”. At first I thought Matt’s enthusiastic behavior was a show for the camera. Only when Owen grows tired of Matt’s constant referencing and enthusiasm does it start to become clear that this is more than an act. The friendship sours when Owen’s crush on a popular hottie might actually have a prospect. A prospect that Matt feels solely responsible for and only opens Owen’s eyes . This leaves Matt alone to finish the sequel.
Johnson present the bullying for what it is. No Hollywood hyperbole or dramatics are used. It’s raw and senseless and comes with little to no warning just like in life. More disturbing than the bullying is watching Matt’s clear cries for help that fall on deaf ears. Asking his mother if she thinks he’s crazy or the endless hours of pouring over books on (real life high school shooting) Columbine go unnoticed. This all leads to an ending that is expected but none the less shocking.
Proving that Johnson is a film maker who is not scared to take risks he opted for the faux documentary approach. I understand why he went this route as it adds a certain amount of realism and grit that most school bullying movies lack, but it leaves you with that burning question: Why? Why is this camera man filming Matt? Why doesn’t he show video evidence of Matt and Owen being Physically assaulted to the authorities? Why when it’s clear that Matt is desperately in need of help does he not step in before it’s too late? These question aren’t answered or even addressed. Matt does seem to be the only character aware of the cameras. Maybe Johnson is suggesting that Matt is more unhinged than we are lead to believe and the camera are part of his psychosis?
The Dirties is an honest look at what most of us are afraid to acknowledge. It’s no surprise Kevin Smith choose it for his first film to be distributed by his Movie Club label. Smith is quoted in saying ” This is the most important film you will see all year.” and I have to agree with him. It’s obviously a low-budget film but Johnson is able to over come these budget restrains with an upfront and personal film.
The Dirties is now available on VOD everywhere courtesy of Kevin Smith’s Movie Club and Phase 4 Films. Also be sure to check out SJP’s interview with director Matt Johnson in PODCAST #56!