The Dirties Review

Indie maestro, Kevin Smith, hailed The Dirties as one of ‘the most important films of the year,’ and it certainly lives up to the hype. In his first writer and director credit, Matt Johnson has created both a meta-textual film about filmmaking but also an uncompromising and provocative story about two friends in high school who plan to get their revenge on those that bully them.

Matt (Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) play two amateur filmmaking buddies who are currently in the midst of filming a revenge story called The Dirties for their class project. The ad-libbed and secretly filmed story is about a pair who decide to take revenge on a group of bullies at their school and that they will go to any extent to get rid of those who get in their way (including a cleverly edited sequence with a teacher pretending to be a teacher). Whilst their film builds to it’s final climax, Matt finds himself figuring out whether what he jokes about in his film could actually happen in reality – could he kill those at his high school that have forever bullied him and Owen?

In the first instance, The Dirties recalls a selection of films about filmmaking that bring to mind those that satire the industry and those that play parts within it – think Kevin Williamson’s Scream or Robert Altman’s The Player. These films allow the filmmaker to test the audience’s knowledge about the industry and Johnson does the same thing – his characters are constantly referencing other films (from Pulp Fiction to Malcolm X to The Usual Suspects) and embedding them within his own story. The references go further afield as well; whilst he directly uses quotes in the dialogue (or misquotes), he also adds a whole extra level of information through the posters on the walls or the fonts on screen. For example, in Matt’s room there is two big posters of Ryan and Seth from the television show, The O.C. but their names are covered up with Matt and Owen’s names – for those who have seen The O.C. this adds further readings to the characters (does Matt think of them like brothers, or as is often joked about with Ryan and Seth, lovers?). His discussion of filmmaking doesn’t stop there either, he interestingly proposes discussions around editing what is shown on screen to provide a specific point of view; as in the teacher sequence mentioned earlier – through editing Matt shows him and Owen killing their teacher but obviously the teacher didn’t know that was the case when they filmed the scene.

On another level, The Dirties, is recalling a series of memories and references often associated with the Columbine shootings (and similar) and the culture that has risen from that. Both Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine were direct responses and recognitions to the school shootings, but since then culture and specifically film has tried to make sense of the mentalities of these people that have caused these atrocities. Johnson’s script (which he co-wrote) tries to figure out the different elements of what makes someone like this and aims to even go as far as satire them. He points out at one part that every psycho finds an affiliation with The Catcher In The Rye, and so the books becomes an important element of the film. Towards the end, when Matt actually plans to act out his own revenge scenario he does all he can to make it clear that he is one of these psychos (for example, taking every copy of the book out of the library).

What The Dirties does recognise is that it is in satire that the most important discussions could potentially sprout forth. Clearly this film has been made by a group of people who admire and love film, but they also believe that it can be used in ways that other mediums perhaps cannot. They feel questions can be put forward in untraditional routes, but somehow they make sense when on film. The sense of drama and tension in The Dirties is powerful and unforgettable so that when the obvious climax does arrive, it is still shocking and moving. In Johnson, film has found a new and important talent, with an in-depth skill for understanding emotions and what needs to be done on film to cause ripples within the audience.

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