Review: The Dirties
PLOT: Two bullied high schoolers, Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are making a movie in which they act out their revenge fantasies against a group of bullies called “The Dirties”. But as the film gets more and more elaborate, the boys start blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
REVIEW: THE DIRTIES is kinda like a film geek's take on ELEPHANT, and I don't mean for that to sound exploitative. In fact, I'd wager THE DIRTIES is a far more affecting and disturbing take on the unfortunate epidemic of school shootings (a tragedy that keeps repeating itself) than that admittedly brave film was. The reason I'd say it's arguably more powerful is that ELEPHANT never tried to get inside the heads of the shooters. It never tried to explain the unexplainable, which was worth respecting. But, that was 2003. In the ten years since, we've had more and more stories like the one here. Clearly, we can't just explain away these shootings as the work of “freaks” and madmen. THE DIRTIES dares us to get inside their heads, and the result is unsettling.
Co-writer, director and star Matthew Johnson is an affable guy, which makes the idea of watching him as a potential school shooter all the more disturbing. If you're a real film geek, you'll certainly at least start off the film by identifying with him, as him and Owen trade lines from USUAL SUSPECTS, and PULP FICTION, or try to re-enact the “multiple Malkovich” scene from BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. In deconstructing these tragedies, people always look for the “signs” and are quick to blame anything that can explain why someone could do something so horrible. Here, Johnson, and his co-star Owen Williams are nice guys, and seemingly far from being psychopaths. But, we watch as the guys get pushed farther and farther over the edge by the bullying they're faced with each and every day, and while being the victims of bullying doesn't justify their actions, it does pose some questions that need to be asked.
I'm usually not a real fan of the found-footage genre, but it can't be denied that it works in THE DIRTIES. While it was likely a budgetary necessity, it also makes us feel disturbingly intimate with the guys (although exactly who is filming them is never really addressed). We watch as over and over again, Matt and Owen are bullied by their peers, and made to feel worthless as their teachers turn a blind eye. If anything, bullying is worse now than it was when I was in school fifteen years ago. My graduation coincided with the Columbine shooting, and back then it seemed like an isolated incident...now, not so much. The popular phrase used to counsel victims of school bullying is “it gets better.” That's refuted in the very first scene where Matt tells Owen, “it doesn't get better, it gets worse.”
Again though, having Matt and Owen be victims of bullying is never used to excuse their actions, but it makes THE DIRTIES one of the few movies that dares to take a look at what motivates these kids. It's more comfortable to demonize them, but clearly director Johnson doesn't want you to be comfortable.
For that reason alone, THE DIRTIES is a must-see. Granted, no matter how interesting a take on the material it is, it's still a subject that's taboo in movies. It figures that while THE DIRTIES is probably better than a lot of the movies that played Sundance this year, it by-passed the festival, and went to Slamdance instead. It's certainly a hard-sell to audiences, but it's a useful film that shines a light on a terrible phenomena. None other than Kevin Smith is participating in it's release, so unlike a lot of other indies I've seen that have slipped into the ether, this one you'll actually have a chance to check out. It's incredibly disturbing, and guaranteed to rattle your cage. Then again, sometimes that's necessary.
|Extra Tidbit:||Make sure to check-out the amazing end credits.|